Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sea of Love (1989)

Director: Harold Becker                                Writer: Richard Price
Film Score: Trevor Jones                             Cinematography: Ronnie Taylor
Starring: Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, John Goodman and John Spencer

This is one of those great films that just seems to happen and, for no reason, exceeds all expectations. In the first place you have Harold Becker, a minor director who had done a couple of interesting films in the early eighties. You also have Ellen Barkin who was still at the beginning of her career, though definitely on an upward trajectory. And finally, Al Pacino, who was at quite a low point, not having made a film in five years. Producer Martin Bregman, who had worked with Pacino as far back as 1973 with Serpico, brought him in to star in Sea of Love and hoped for a miracle. And it happened.

The film is a combination murder mystery and police procedural. When several men are found shot in their beds, the only link is that they were dating women through the personal ads. Pacino is a detective who gets the first case, and winds up teaming with John Goodman, a detective from another borough with a similar case. Pacino comes up with the idea to put their own ad in the personals, get the woman’s fingerprints on a glass, and then they’ll have their killer. When Ellen Barkin shows up, however, she has no interest in Pacino and bolts without leaving prints. But they meet later at a neighborhood grocery story and suddenly things click between them. The only problem: she could be the killer.

Above all, Pacino’s performance is stellar, probably because the down-and-out cop role rings so true for where he was in his career at the time. His emotional performance, on so many levels, fear, anger, passion, is a clinic on great film acting. Barkin definitely holds her own, however, and is a powerful presence on the screen as well. Their fiery romance is one for the cinematic ages. The rest of the cast is equally good in supporting roles. John Goodman, before he became a cliché, has a nice turn as Pacino’s partner, bringing equal parts humor and seriousness to his role. John Spencer is Pacino’s lieutenant and has a couple of good one-liners. Also onboard is the great Richard Jenkins, William Hickey, Paul Calderon, and Jacqueline Brooks as Barkin’s mother.

The directing is okay, but what really stands out are the performances of the actors. There is a lot of great tension and suspense in the script and it definitely keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. The music is also an important part of film. The title song, blaring from the soundtrack, is incredibly eerie and unsettling. There is also a great period score by Trevor Jones that utilizes the wailing tenor saxophone of Branford Marsalis. Additionally, there is a lot of humor to go along with the suspense that really works well, and as a result Sea of Love is satisfying on a number of levels. Ultimately it was the comeback that Pacino needed and still remains a classic thriller.

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