Saturday 9 June 2007

Sea of Love (1989) Harold Becker

Al Pacino is Detective Frank Keller, celebrating twenty years with New York City's finest by running a sting to catch a bunch of hoods by inviting them to meet the Yankees. One of them, surprisingly, is a young but entirely recognisable Samuel L Jackson, credited simply as 'Black Guy'. Keller has a good soul though, but he also has all the stereotypical issues that veteran cops tend to have: an ex-wife (who's now married to his partner of all people), a cigarette in his mouth while in bed and a bottle of Jack Daniels on the bedside table.

He's also realistically good, far from infallible but full of insight and committed to his work, much like Pacino himself, showing us here just why he's commonly regarded as one of the greatest actors of today. I personally find his work often overdone, usually in his highest rated films like Scarface and Serpico. I much prefer him the way he is here or in something unjustly overlooked like Glengarry Glen Ross. Here he's a joy to watch, never overacting, never supercop, just a good one who knows his job and works hard to get results. He's good drunk, he's good tired and he's good when he realises that he's just made a mistake. That's good acting.

Anyway, Keller is investigating a murder when another detective, played by John Goodman, lets him know that he's been working a similar case in Queens. Detectives Keller and Sherman team up and become a great double act tracking down the killer, who seems to be female and apparently picking her victims from the poetry the victims write in lonelyhearts ads.

Beyond Pacino and Goodman, who are both superb, there are a number of other excellent actors here who don't disappoint. William Hickey is always going to be known as the old don in Prizzi's Honor, a part he was truly unforgettable in, but I'm rapidly finding that he's just as good whatever part he's playing. Here he's Pacino's dad, the one that provides the poem for his fake lonelyhearts ad. Michael Rooker is great, as he always is. I know Patricia Barry, formerly Patricia White, and I know Christine Estabrook. Most of all I know Ellen Barkin who Keller gets tangled up with, even though she's a suspect and rapidly becoming a strong one.

I've been an Ellen Barkin fan for years, not least because she has a unique and unconventional beauty that made her one of the most sensual women to appear in film, certainly in colour. Here she's both at the peak of her charms in her mid thirties and adorned with long blonde hair and a red leather jacket which can't fail. She looks just as good in a business suit though and the way she moves her mouth still makes me melt. She was awesome in The Big Easy in 1987, both as far as looks and talent, in Switch in 1991 and in Man Trouble in 1992. The only one from that era that let me down was Siesta in 1987, but everything about that film let me down. I'm happy to find that this one's probably the best of the bunch, though The Big Easy, which is less serious, less deep and less substantial, is probably always going to be my favourite.

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