Cruising is one of the most enigmatic films in the history of cinema, not just because of what's in it, but because of how the perception of it has changed over time. William Friedkin's 1980 thriller was controversial before it was even finished. Gay rights advocates attempted to disrupt filming because they feared it could spawn homophobic violence. Years later, some in the LGBT community began to embrace it, saying that a big studio movie with an A-list star taking any aspect of their community seriously was worth celebrating. Today, Cruising is largely viewed as a great conversation starter -- a film that is flawed in some areas, wildly successful in others, and fascinating all the way around.
Arrow Video brings this one-of-a-kind feature to Blu-Ray on August 20, in a package that will no doubt further enhance its reputation.
Al Pacino plays Steve Burns, a New York cop sent undercover into the world of gay S&M bars. He's searching for a serial killer who preys on gay men. At first, Burns keeps himself at arm's length, trying to find the psycho just by observing. Gradually, though, he gets pulled more into things, especially after befriending a gay neighbor, Ted Bailey (Don Scardino).
Cruising has long been the subject of debate because, as the murders continue, the film's tone shifts so that we begin to question Burns's motives. He seems changed by the undercover experience, yet his intense, borderline menacing presence doesn't indicate anything specific. Has entering this scene made him realize that he's been denying his own sexuality? Maybe, but that wouldn't explain the dark moodiness that appears to overcome him. Does seeing the killer's work trigger some brutal aspect of his personality, so that he begins to identify with someone who murders? Perhaps, although the film would not need to be set in this particular world if that's what it was going for.
Regardless, such ambiguity is what has helped Cruising stand the test of time. Friedkin, who adapted the screenplay from Gerald Walker's novel, shrewdly avoids giving the audience easy answers. The director has long denied any political intent; he just viewed the S&M bars as an original backdrop for a murder mystery. Still, the film is, at a fairly basic level, about how people can be affected by exposure to things that are completely foreign to them.
Pacino is good as Burns, and Friedkin's dedication to plunging the viewer into the S&M club scene provides a sense of authenticity that benefits the story. Any time a mystery can make its setting feel so vibrant and alive, getting sucked in becomes easy. Cruising is intentionally a little vague at times, and the ending purposefully leaves some questions dangling. But that's the appeal. When so many films want to over-explain themselves, watching one that encourages viewers to analyze their own interpretations is a treat.
Arrow Video's Blu-ray is, according to Friedkin himself, the definitive release of Cruising. The special features begin with a brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, supervised and approved by the filmmaker. He has every reason to be happy with this scan, because the movie's dark beauty really pops off the screen. The ubiquitous blue tint that was so prevalent in most previous home video releases is gone and not missed. Cruising looks more authentic without it. Friedkin also supervised the excellent newly-remastered 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix. His archival audio commentary is also here.
Beyond that and the theatrical trailer, there are two engaging mini-documentaries. “The History of Cruising” looks at the movie's genesis and production, with Friedkin and others going into enticing detail. “Exorcising Cruising,” meanwhile, focuses specifically on the controversy the movie generated. There has not been a film as controversial as Cruising for a long time. Viewers who were not around in 1980 may be particularly captivated by the tales of how activists attempted to prevent the movie from being made/shown. Both these features add to your appreciation of the film itself.
Looking and sounding better than ever, Cruising remains a picture worth seeing and talking about.
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Cruising is rated R for language, sexuality, and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.