CRUISING (William Friedkin, 1980)

About an undercover police attempt to identify and capture the serial killer of gay men in New York City’s s&m (sadism/masochism), b&d (bondage/dominance) and leather subcultures, William Friedkin’s soulless Cruising enraged the gay community when it was being made and is still a shallow, seedy, unpleasant “entertainment.” The undercover cop in Friedkin’s film is played by Al Pacino, whose casting will remind many viewers of his livelier undercover cop seven years earlier in Sidney Lumet’s “fact-based” Serpico. We are supposed to see Pacino’s Steve Burns in Cruising as being dangerously drawn by degrees into the nasty milieu he has entered undercover, including the mind of the murderer. In Pacino’s repressed, ambiguous performance, none of this is remotely apparent. Rather, too much weight is given to a ridiculous ending that reveals most unconvincingly that Burns angled and manipulated for the assignment, which has now led to his promotion to detective and his becoming himself the brutal slayer of a gay man.
     Friedkin’s Oscar-winning The French Connection (1971) was bad enough. Cruising is worse.

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