The Bottom Line: "You're gonna fly away Glad you're goin my way I love it when we're cruisin' together" ~Smokey Robinson & Marvin Tarplin
Director William Friedkin wanted to make his film Cruising so realistic he scouted the underground S&M bars in NY prior to filming. In fact, most of the participants shown in the bars are the actual clientele which were hired as extras for the filming. Friedkin asked them to act as they usually do but to ‘tone down’ some of the sexuality because of rating conflictions. Even with that, it does get a bit heavy some times.
The film was taken from a book by Gerald Walker which described a string of killings in the homosexual community during the time frame of 1962-1979. Friedkin realized the club scene had changed quite a bit since the book was originally written and had it adapted to reflect the darker underground scenes shown in this film. The actual detective that went under cover to investigate these murders was used as technical advisor on the film and took Pacino and Friedkin to several locations he stayed while working the case. His cases were solved although the perpetrators were never convicted of the murders. They did, however, do quite a stint for several other associated crimes during the same time frame.
As I mentioned, Al Pacino was in the film as the undercover policeman Steve Burns. When first introduced to us, and to his assignment, I can only say they must have done one hell of a makeup job. He looks positively young and naïve at first showing. Although he wasn’t a detective at the time, his looks fit the profile of the other victims so the higher ups decided to give him this assignment. When told of the background, both in real life and in the film, he was unaware of the lifestyle he would be immersing himself into. As is the case of a lot of these undercover assignments, it often changes the character completely and they seldom come out whole on the other side of the job.
In this case, there is a sort of cocky acceptability between each other, almost adoration. It becomes a seductive siren for some, especially the uninitiated. It seemed, as the story progressed, Pacino’s character became ever more evolved into the persona he was supposed to be portraying. In real life, Pacino spent a good many hours in these clubs, studying the attitudes of the people, to better his performance. On the split side, before he went undercover, he had a solid relationship with a woman, who he still pursues throughout the film.
Karen Allen was chosen to play the part because Friedkin said she appeared so soft and vulnerable, which was exactly what was needed to offset the dark and often violent aspects of the other part of the film. He screen time was very limited but it have us a different visual of the Steve Burns character.
Paul Sorvino played Captain Edelson, which is the one that recruited Pacino for the operation and was his connection to the real world. I had to laugh on the extras of the DVD when Friedkin said he has told Sorvino to think of the saddest things he could so he would always have a mournful or sorrowful countenance. To me, Sorvino always looks like he is mourning the loss of a dear friend or cuddly puppy. Not that it is a bad thing, it is just the makeup of this particular person and it suits him perfectly. In this film, his character is coming to the end of his career and he wants to solidify this case before his retirement. One is left wondering if anything was ever solved, which was perfect.
Like I said, at our first meeting with Pacino he seemed young, almost boyish. By the end of the film his forty years are showing plus some. I think this was done deliberately to show the effects this assignment had on him.
This film is certainly dark and edgy with almost a surreal quality to it. Although it is done in color it seems so muted it almost appears black and white but without the crisp edges B&W filming gives us. The murders done are all “Psycho-like”, implied rather than actually viewed. We are present but it is all done peripherally, so we never see the actual crime but only the aftermath. Needless to say, this carries an R rating for sexual content and implied violence. I have tried very hard to remember but I think, surprisingly for a film of this type, there is no offensive language, which is incredible.
The extras on the DVD are quite interesting because they give so much background about the story, the filming, the casting, and of course the protests. Let’s just say this film wasn’t well received. It had both supporters and opposition in the gay community. Protests were held throughout the filming, often causing difficulty on the sets and in production. Despite all that, it was nominated for four awards. This was an outstanding character study and portrayal by Pacino, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I was hoping to make this Lean-n-Mean but it turned out fat and sassy :)