Jerry Weintraub for Lorimar/Warner Brothers
directed by William Friedkin
starring Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Don Scardino, Joe Spinell, Jay Acovone, Randy Jurgensen, Barton Heyman, Gene Davis, Arnaldo Santana, Larry Atlas, Allan Miller, Sonny Grosso, Ed O'Neill, Michael Aronin, James Remar, William Russ, Mike Starr, Steve Inwood, Keith Prentice, Leland Starnes, Robert Pope, Leo Burmester, Bruce Levine, Charles Dunlap, Powers Boothe, James Sutorius (voice), Richard Jamieson, Jimmie Ray Weeks, David Winnie Hayes, Carmine Stippo, Todd Winters
screenplay by William Friedkin, based on the novel by Gerald Walker, music by Jack Nitzsche
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In the late 1970s, New York's S&M gay scene is thriving, with many
a club catering to gay men in leather, and many a quiet corner in the park
hiding gay couples going at it. And this is also the ideal hunting ground
for a serial killer, Stuart (Richard Cox), who manages to remain
undetected also because the gays don't necessarily trust law enforcement -
and aren't always terribly wrong about it (as proven by a priceless
performance of cult icon Joe Spinell as a sleazy cop). As the mayor and
the press demand an arrest soon, Captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) comes up
with the idea to let young and fairly attractive policeman Steve Burns (Al
Pacino) to go undercover, as he fits the profile of the killer's victims.
Of course, Steve is neither gay nor does he know much about the scene, but
he's ambitious, so he learns quickly. But the more he gets into the gay
scene, the more he loses himself in it, and he becomes gradually estranged
from his wife Nancy (Karen Allen). Eventually, Steve thinks he has found
the killer, rather bully-ish Skip (Jay Acovone), and lures him into a trap
- but when he sees how his colleagues try to force a confession out of
Skip, only to see him totally exonorated an hour later, this tips him
almost too far. He wants to quit, but now is in it too deep - and then he
stumbles over a clue that leads him to Stuart, but this time he tries to
apprehend him on his own. Problem is, Stuart isn't exactly stupid, and is
in good enough shape to be a threat in one-on-one fight ...
paper, this might read like part serial killer movie, part police
procedural, but on screen, this is above all a very engaging character
study, and one that gets it right in pretty much every aspect: The film's
rather flashy backdrop (the New York gay scene) and the central character
arc correspond directly with one another rather than one just being a
canvas for the other, the narration, while character-centric, still tells
a well-structured and entirely suspenseful tale, direction and camerawork
are slick without being glossy and focus on tension, and Al Pacino at the
top of his game leads a very strong ensemble cast. Pretty much a must-see,
and a film that has aged particularly well.