Monday, June 3, 2013

American Gigolo (1980)

Director: Paul Schrader                                 Writer: Paul Schrader
Film Score: Giorgio Moroder                          Cinematography: John Bailey
Starring: Richard Gere, Lauren Hutton, Hector Elizondo and Bill Duke

Sure it’s massively dated, the fashion, the music, even the subject for that matter. Still, American Gigolo is a nice little suspense film, and it still works. This was also Richard Gere’s breakout film after an arresting performance in Looking for Mr. Goodbar. His very next film would be An Officer and a Gentleman, launching him into a mega-star career. This film is what I would consider the first real eighties film, in terms of its look, the emphasis on production design, fashion and modern music. It’s the template for television shows like Miami Vice and the attendant films of the period that were inspired by it.

Paul Schrader, who wrote and directed the film, had some early success as a writer for Martin Scorsese, penning Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, but was never really a major director. This was also one of Giorgio Moroder’s early efforts as well, a composer who probably reached his peak a few years later with a modernized version of Fritz Lang’s silent classic Metropolis. His music today wears much better than someone like Vangelis, and is closer to the Jan Hammer ethos that permeated the Miami Vice era. You also have Hector Elizondo, who had been kicking around television and some small films, doing a great version of Columbo here, and managing a break-out of sorts for himself. The beautiful Lauren Hutton is the love interest and still has her seventies allure as an “older” woman.

Gere plays a high-price male prostitute who has a good thing going, an expensive apartment, nice clothes, fancy car, and everything seems on cruise control. He doesn’t have a pimp, though Nina van Pallandt gets him most of his higher quality jobs. But an old associate, Bill Duke, would like to reel him back in and calls up one night desperate for a substitute. Gere agrees, with disastrous consequences. Most of Gere’s clients are wealthy, married women who can’t disclose their relationship with him. And a week later, when the woman he saw for Duke winds up murdered, his alibi refuses to save him. At the same time he has been sliding into a personal relationship with Lauren Hutton that violates his business-like rules to this point. Add to that Hector Elizondo as a homicide detective who won’t leave him alone, and Gere’s life has been turned inside out.

Gere is perfect for the role, swaggering with self-consciousness in his own arrogant way. The only thing that fails to hold up over the years is the dated fashions, most of which still look pretty good and some of which, like the tortoise-shell sunglasses, don’t. That aside, it takes the typical suspense/noir aspects of the film and updates them with a modern look and feel. The pressure slowly begins to build on Gere until he must finally make a decision to do something drastic or sit in jail for something he didn’t do, neither of which look very attractive after a while. This is a long way away from something like Body Heat, in which Lawrence Kasdan ripped off Double Indemnity and passed it off as his own. American Gigolo is an original and extremely influential film and deserves a place as one of the great eighties films in cinematic history.

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