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A detailed look at… Cruising (1980), starring Al Pacino (SPOILERS included)

*** Since this detailed look includes questions and answers regarding the plot it goes without saying that you will come across spoilers. So be aware of that 😉 ***

cruising1295 Category: Thriller
Actors: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Don Scardino, Ed O’Neill, James Remar
Duration: 102 min
Rated: R

You might like this movie if you enjoyed:
American Gigolo (1980), Dressed to Kill (1980), 8MM (1999)

Long Story Short:
A police officer goes undercover in the gay S&M and leather scene to find a serial killer. During his investigation he feels oddly attracted to this world, and risks losing his own identity.

William Friedkin (known for The Exorcist (1973) and The French Connection (1971)) didn’t have it easy when he released Cruising. First of all it got cut down nearly forty minutes by the MPAA in order to get an R rating, then ripped apart by critics due to its controversial content, and finally boycotted by the gay community, because many felt that it was portraying them in a very stereotypical way. The fact that it was actually shot in existing bars with regular customers was totally neglected. I believe it had a fair start in the movie theaters, however, it disappeared for almost 20 years until somehow Friedkin was asked in an interview if he ever thought about releasing the director’s cut of Cruising. He replied that he was thinking about it, especially since the cut scenes include not only explicit sex scenes, but more importantly scenes that are significant for the character development of Steve Burns, played by Al Pacino. In 2007 the movie had its first release on DVD, but the director’s cut still hasn’t been released yet.
I came across this movie when I heard that James Franco was trying to reenact the missing footage of a very controversial movie from the 80’s starring Al Pacino. The trailer of James Franco’s documentary Interior.Leather.Bar. seems a little “look at me, I am showing gay sex, and I am breaking boundaries”- ish, and coming from any other person I couldn’t have cared less, but it definitely got my attention since Franco seems like one of those human beings who really does’t give a damn about anybody’s opinion, and I like that, even though I am not a fan of too many of his roles or movies.

vlcsnap-2013-11-06-15h53m06s141 The movie itself comes off very dark and the killer and his voice that seems to come straight from hell is very creepy. The killings are intense and seem very real, and I am sure that the reason for so many gays going against that movie at that time was, they were actually scared of it. After all, hate crimes weren’t acknowledged by the law, and homophobia was widely common, so the movie was more of a reminder that these crimes exist. The “controversial” scenes shot in the leather bars in the gay district of New York made me laugh a little because they did seem very stereotypical, and I think by now we have seen the same or even worse images in gay parodies. But apparently in the unreleased uncut version there is a lot more to see. The fact that a lot of gay men have lived in the closet back then, however, is not stereotypical, so many went to abandoned places, parks, or adult book stores for obvious reasons, just because they couldn’t be who they want to be openly. After all being gay has been considered a crime for quite a while, and many people thought that homosexuality and pedophilia were the same thing. So the fear of being called a pervert, or getting killed for those reasons remained. And even today, the same generation from back then still goes cruising in parks, just because they are used to it. So the old guys driving around in parks aren’t lost, just f.y.i.

While watching the movie I had quite a few questions. The most significant ones were:

1. Is it just me or does the killer look different in every other scene?
I think there is really no answer to this, but I have read that Friedkin tried to suggest that there might be more than one killer targeting the gay community.

2. Why the hell did this big, tall black man in underwear storm into the interrogation room and smacks the guy being interrogated?
This moment came out of nowhere and my jaw actually dropped. Afterwards I had to rewind a few times and re-watch it because it was just so funny. One explanation could be that Friedkin was mocking the police department at that time, and their ridiculous methods of handling suspects.

3. What happened to the drag queens who were harassed by the two police men?
I don’t even know, and I understand that Friedkin probably wanted to point out how badly the police treats citizens sometimes, but I would have hoped for a conclusion for this subplot.

vlcsnap-2013-11-06-15h56m00s89 4.What’s up with that ending? – Al Pacino stares at himself in the mirror while his girlfriend tries on the sun glasses, leather jacket and hat that he took from the killer.
Well, I believe that when a character takes a deep look at their reflection it usually symbolizes change. He might have become a completely different person while being undercover, which was hinted when he told the captain that he can’t deal with this mission and feels like he is changing. Also he didn’t feel attracted to his girlfriend anymore, which could of course mean he was under a lot of pressure being undercover. But he also seems attracted to his neighbor, and he gives the killer a quite fascinating look as well. So the change he is going through could be him transitioning into the killer he was hunting down.
And his girlfriend putting on these clothes could stand for some strange vibe that comes from them, which maybe turns you into a killer. Am I going too far with this explanation? I didn’t quite get that one either.

5. Who killed Steve Burns gay neighbor?
Obviously the killer was behind bars when it happened, so is there another one? Since the killer looked differently in a few scenes (see question 1), this might be an explanation. It could have also been his jealous boyfriend, that Burns has the argument with towards the end. Or it could have been Burns, since there is a chance he might have turned into the killer. Or did he feel that he was becoming gay, too, or establishing feelings for the guy, and therefore symbolically killed his gay side?

As you can see one question might just lead to more. 🙂 But I am sure everything would make more sense if the cut scenes were included. If I ever get to see the uncut version and these questions still remain, I am going to be upset!

Anyways, Cruising is a very decent thriller, which has that 80’s flair to it, a creepy killer, and great leading and supporting actors, even James Remar, who plays the dead father in Dexter has a little part in it.
I think Al Pacino has many faces, he can play almost everything, and is not afraid to play roles that people might not be fond of, and Cruising proves that. If you shy away from movies that deal with gay themes it might not be for you, but for everyone else who is open for an interesting, dark, and intense thriller, should go for it, and Al Pacino’s fans won’t definitely regret it either.

Rating: 6.5/10


  1. I just watched this film awhile ago and I got ots of questions and one of those is WHO IS THE REAL KILLER? I even took a pic to compare the faces of the killers. I just noticed that the first killer was also the second victim at the park, and the killer at the park is also the killer in the Adult Bookstore, but I am not sure, I got confused. And I went to Google to enlighten me.

  2. I can comment on dat big black dude with cowboy hat….

    If the Accused would go to the Media or his Attorney and tell them that they (cops) tortured me and forced me to confess that I killed these guys. The first question would be how did they torture you and the answer?
    A 6’10” African American, Naked except for a Jockstrap and wearing a Cowboy Hat came by and slapped me, didn’t speak anything and just kept hitting me….

    The Captain would claim that this guy is hallocunating and there is no such person in his force…

    Bottomline….that’s just a way for Cops to save their assess. .. get one person to accept the blame for all the killings and they can close all those files and improve their stats or save their seats.

  3. Thanks
    so much for all the insights. I’m slow and I thought I missed something.
    Your writing was beautiful. No editing needed. I feel much better about the movie. Love to see the movie before the cuts.

  4. The only comment I have is did Pacino kill his neighbor because he liked him and wanted to spare him from that life ? I lived in NYC when filming was going on, my boss took me a female and two guys from London who wanted to go to the Ramrod. EXACTLY as portrayed in the Movie. I was 20 years old, did not stick around long. I love Pacino and I got to meet him one morning at the corner of 5th and 96th St. We were both hailing cabs, so we rode together. He was great, engaging, funny, ONLY IN NYC !

    • Thanks for the feedback. I read this post again and noticed a lot of errors. I had a lot going on at that time, but really wanted to share this post with my readers. Should have edited it before posting. But it should be easier to read now. Maybe you can tell me what you think about the actual post now! 😀 Have a wonderful day, person without a name.

  5. Great post. I just watched this movie for the first time last night and was left with many of the same question and observations. The biggest remaining, “seriously, what was the deal with the big cop in a jock strap slapping the hell out the guy being interrogated?”

    • It comes from stories of cops who would supposedly do this whenever they were roughing up a suspect to cover their own behinds. This way when the suspect says he was treated badly and relates what happened, it sounds so completely and utterly far fetched that the powers that be would think he was making it up. Telling people that a huge black man in a cowboy hat and a jockstrap beat you up in a police interrogation sounds pretty out there.

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