Cruising ★★★

Awkward and uncomfortable.

William Friedkin’s crime horror thriller Cruising (1980) is a strange picture. It sees Friedkin dive deep into the leather and biker gay scene in New York of the 1980’s. All his gaudy shots of leather clad bikers, men in gimp suits, or straight up naked men are really awkwardly leering throughout Cruising. It’s just not very enjoyable despite being well directed by Friedkin. The serial killing is chilling and harsh like the murders in Zodiac, but all the undercover stuff with Pacino is so over the top on gay stereotypes and voyeuristic giallo type filmmaking.

Friedkin’s writing leans into goofy stereotypes and crazy twists with a mildly annoying ambiguous ending. It could have been a truly engaging narrative of forgotten minorities being preyed upon by cops and killers alike, but Friedkin’s just too obsessed with certain shots that don’t really add anything. I just think he’s done better than Cruising before and since. Friedkin directs Cruising like a raunchy, seedy, and odd slasher.

Al Pacino goes all in as a cop, uncertain of his sexuality, as he attempts to find a serial killer after the gay community by pretending to be one. Pacino walks with a floaty gait, changes his tone, and bares it all in a wild performance that’s fairly reserved. He just cannot elevate the rest of the film on his own. There are just so many nude men in Cruising for no reason that it gets weird.

Bud S. Smith’s editing is all over the place with strange cuts making Cruising’s brief 102 minutes feel twice the length. Smith lingers on too many awkward shots to really keep a gripping pace for Cruising. James A. Contner’s cinematography is pretty with neat blue lighting and slow panning shot with creative framing; however, all the long shots of scantily clad gay guys in bars and clubs go on forever.

Jack Nitzsche’s score is full of cool 80’s synths, but it’s his dark jazz pieces that stuck with me the most throughout Cruising. Robert De Mora’s costumes emptied NY out of all the biker and cop S&M outfits I’m sure. The costuming for Cruising is as over the top as the rest of the movie.

I don’t know if I’d even recommend Cruising for anyone. Dog Day Afternoon is the better gay Al Pacino picture, while Friedkin’s To Live & Die in LA and of course The French Connection are the better police procedurals.