Cruising (1980)

cruising poster 1980 movie
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Weird movie that is mostly surprising in that it was made

Fetishizes and treats the gay culture as a manufacturer of serial killers

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Cruising

Studio:  Lorimar Film Entertainment/CiP/Europaische Treuhand AG

Genre(s):  Drama/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  February 8, 1980 (Premiere)/February 15, 1980 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

cruising gay club al pacino

I am committed to my job

Someone is murdering gay men in New York City.  Detective Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is recruited by Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) to go undercover, and he can tell no one…even his girlfriend Nancy Gates (Karen Allen).  Burns quickly finds himself entrenched in the S&M culture at clubs where the killer is striking.  Burns must lure out the killer…but the job might be too much for him.

Directed by William Friedkin (who also adapted the screenplay), Cruising is a suspense detective thriller.  The film is based on the novel 1970 novel and was previously pitched to Steven Spielberg.  The film faced rating challenges and released to protest by the gay community for its portrayal of the gay culture.  The film received Razzie nominations for Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay.

Cruising is just a weird movie.  It was daring to focus on something that generally wasn’t portrayed in movies, but it also managed to do it by alienating almost all the potential audiences.  Due to aspects of the story, a ******spoiler alert****** is in effect for the rest of the review.

cruising al pacino killer park ending

Come here often?

The story is also weirdly ambiguous.  While it is a mystery with a potential killer, it mostly becomes a psychological drama with Pacino debating the emotions he’s feeling in doing this job.  He’s involved with a woman but jumps at the opportunity and takes to it oddly well.  The movie doesn’t imply he’s gay, but almost that he’s too involved in the act and in too deep…it culminates with the ending which implies he has killed his gay neighbor and boyfriend (who he gets in a fight with)…but without saying it.

Pacino feels really out of place in the movie.  For the time it was made, it probably was a rather difficult movie to make…Friedkin wanted Richard Gere for the role.  Karen Allen’s role is rather small and subdued, and Paul Sorvino plays the rather typical police captain type role.  There are small roles by Ed O’Neill, James Remar, and Powers Boothe.

cruising karen allen bondage costume

I’m pushing for a Karen Allen sequel called Cruising 2: Cruise Control

The film has a solid crime, noir look, but the movie’s big chance was going deep into the clubs.  The film shot at the real clubs the Mineshaft and Hellfire Club.  The movie used a lot of real extras, but the way the movie approaches the whole thing seems off-putting.  It paints the people as people who can easily snap and become killers.  While it does state that it is a subculture, the movie treats it almost like “freak show”…which is definitely something in the early 1980s that moved the movie into stereotypes that didn’t help gay portrayals on screen.

Cruising is an oddity, and it is a movie that is more of a time capsule that has to be examined in that sense.  It isn’t necessarily bad film plot wise (overall), but it is a misfire in development and presentation.  There was a large chunk of Cruising cut for the theater and just that could have improved or at least helped build the movie…but if nothing else, if you watch Cruising, you end up with a movie that is surprising that it exists.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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