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Cruising (1980)


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Average Rating: N/A
Critic Reviews: 3
Fresh: 3 | Rotten: 0



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Average Rating: 3.2/5
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Movie Info

New York City detective Steve Burns Al Pacino receives orders from Captain Edelson Paul Sorvino to solve a series of brutal murders in the gay community. Steve scours the gay bars that caters to same-sex sadomasochism in a desperate attempt to solve the crime. As he infiltrates the scene, he slowly comes loose from the moorings of his own reality, and an innocent victim is tortured by the cops in an effort to exact a confession. The story is based on actual murders that took place between 1962


Mystery & Suspense, Drama

Sep 18, 2007

Warner Bros.

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All Critics (34) | Top Critics (7) | Fresh (16) | Rotten (12) | DVD (10)

Its gamy images inside the leather and S&M gay bars along the Greenwich Village waterfront are both busy and dark.

September 7, 2007 Full Review Source: New York Daily News
New York Daily News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

No one would get away with it now, or even try.

September 6, 2007 Full Review Source:
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Cruising is a mediocre thriller but an amazing time capsule -- a heady, horny flashback to the last gasp of full-blown sexual abandon, and easily the most graphic depiction of gay sex ever seen in a mainstream movie.

September 4, 2007 Full Review Source: Village Voice
Village Voice
Top Critic IconTop Critic

What an odd relic of the 1980s Cruising is. Controversial enough at the time to derail director William Friedkin's career, thirty years later it's considered totally benign when a Disney star films a reconstruction of its X-rated scenes.

September 23, 2013 Full Review Source: Quickflix

Is it possible that Cruising is everything its detractors and defenders say it is?

February 21, 2010 Full Review Source:

Friedkin makes the kind of films that a pod from Invasion of the Body Snatchers might make given the chance.

December 28, 2009 Full Review Source: Kinetofilm

still unsettling even after far more explicit fare has been produced in recent years

October 20, 2007 Full Review Source:

A lot of upcoming filmmakers saw "Cruising" and took notes, because the movie became the prototype for every serial killer movie to follow (see "Se7en," "Basic Instinct" etc.).

September 22, 2007 Full Review Source:

The film comes off as little more than a sensationalized exploitation flick.

September 21, 2007 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

Was it insensitive to make this film when it stood to represent the gay subculture to mainstream America? Yes. Is it a great film? No. But it is a fascinating relic.

September 20, 2007 Full Review Source: Apollo Guide
Apollo Guide

Is it offensive? Yes and no. It's insensitive, certainly. And I wouldn't want my mother watching it, lest she think I've been in a sling in the meatpacking district for most of my adult life.

September 18, 2007 Full Review Source:

Cruising can now be ranked among Friedkin's very best films.

September 6, 2007 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

'Cruising' views better today than in 1980, but that is relative. There remain bothersome errors in consistency and judgment.

September 6, 2007 Full Review Source: ReelTalk Movie Reviews
ReelTalk Movie Reviews

Why Cruising? Why now? And why does it feel like how you answer those questions will determine which side pocket you keep your handkerchief in?

September 3, 2007 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine

Both on a conceptual level and in practice, Cruising buys into and advances some of the most dangerous myths about homosexuality and the homosexual lifestyle.

September 3, 2007
Slant Magazine

The most shocking thing about Cruising (shown in 2007 Cannes Fest), which occupies a unique place in film history, is its thematic and visual audacity, the fact that it was made by a mainstream director (Friedkin) and studio; it will never happen again.

June 18, 2007 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

Sordid, disturbing murder mystery revolving around leather bar gays.

May 9, 2007

William Friedkin's Cruising is an interesting, albeit grisly, detective story before being damaged by an abrupt, out-of-the-blue and totally unsatisfying ending.

January 26, 2006
Fantastica Daily

Incoherent, unpleasant, politically problematic, plus one of Al Pacino's most intensely bad performances. Yup. It's a winner.

December 31, 2005

One of the most painfully bad films I have ever seen and an embarrassment for its star, Al Pacino.

August 21, 2002
Reeling Reviews

Audience Reviews for Cruising

With the 80's explosion of homosexuality in the mainstream, director William Friedkin set out to explore the tension that consumed New York during this time. How a fear of the "other" during this anxious period, so easily manifest itself as hate.

Now, what I just described above, is fodder for a great film. Unfortunately, Friedkin's final product "Cruising", isn't that great film. It often forgoes the dark and compelling for the shocking and exploitative. Friedkin seems to lend as much grace and finesse to this subject that he clearly has a cursory knowledge of. Meaning of course, he lends incredibly little.What the viewer gets in essence is a clunky gay horror film in which a hesitant Pacino slowly becomes immersed in a seedy realm of the subversive gay world.

It's filmed in such a way that it feels like a gay Rome, replete with an all-consuming plague like hedonism that is meant to appall. I mean, why else would Friedkin go to such lengths to make sure the viewer gets treated a nice long fisting scene? Friedkin cuts together shots of a knife being thrust into a man's back with others of a penis being plunged into a man's butt. It is hard to not feel like Friedkin is grimly equating murder with homosexuality. This is even furthered by a certain scene in which blood is seen spurting, ejaculating, on the screen in a theater that plays gay porn. The acts of these deviants are drenched in the blood of countless men.

In fact, Friedkin seems so intent on wanting to shock that he ends up not really saying anything of substance. He really only succeeds in propagating stereotypes, fear, and that if a black man in a cowboy hat and jockstrap walks into a room with you, it would behoove you to walk out.

I find Friedkin to be one of the more fascinating figures in American cinematic history. When he hits it, he cranks it out of the park. When he misses, he not only wastes a good opportunity, he also seems to throw his shoulder out in the process. It is no wonder that after a disaster like this, it has been an uphill battle just getting himself back in the game.
December 1, 2012
Reid Volk

Super Reviewer

William Friedkin, the man behind such bad-ass gritty cop thrillers like "The French Connection" and "To Live and Die in L.A." taps his penchant for police detective films with this highly controversial, yet half-baked Al Pacino starrer based on the novel of the same name. The title of the film is a play on words, referring to 'cruising' as in patrolling and also to its sexual connotation.


The film follows this strange case of floating body parts found in the Hudson river in New York city. The cops don't know what to make of it but are somehow linking the act to that of a notorious serial killer who has off late been brutally murdering gay men after picking them up from shady gay S&M and leather nightclubs with names like 'Ramrod', 'Cock Pit' ( you get the drift..) somewhere in Greenwich village. He lurks in the shadows, wears aviator glasses, a leather peaked cap, a leather jacket. He cruises and picks up unsuspecting homosexual pleasure-seekers, takes them to some seedy motel or isolated areas, sings his signature song..."who's here? I'm're here" and proceeds to stab them repeatedly, in the process ensuring they don't survive!

Captain Edelson (a limping Paul Sorvino) sends Officer Steve Burns (a curly-haired Al Pacino!) on a dangerous mission as an undercover agent to try and possibly attract the killer owing to being in the same age group and physical features somewhat matching those of the victims. An initially reluctant Burns accepts the job and sets out on his task. He rents an apartment in the locality, manages to make friends with the friendly next door neighbour Ted (Don Scardino) and also manages to rub Ted's gay partner Gregory (an early James Remar!) the wrong way! The investigation commences, but things aren't that simple for Burns, as he sees himself getting sucked into the dark underbelly of this deviant segment of the gay world, replete with seedy hangouts where sweaty, sloshed gay men indulge in kinkiest of sexual activities whilst being dressed in leather and jockstraps! Burns is clearly uncomfortable, as he attempts to fit in, trying to avoid suspicion on account of having to turn down advances!

Who is this killer? Why is he targeting gay men? Is he a crazed homophobic, who despises the gay folk and is ought to teach them a lesson by wiping out as many as he can? Several leads are followed, several suspects are tailed, but is Burns able to find his man?


Right from its inception, "Cruising" was mired in controversy. There was widespread protest from the gay community as they tried to disrupt the filming following claims that the film represented the homosexual world in a bad light. Friedkin had to add a disclaimer to the original release of the film stating that it is set in a small segment of that world which is not meant to be a representative of the whole. There were also claims that the film is "anti-gay". Apart from showing almost all of the gay men as fetishist slobs, part of the police force is depicted as homophobic, in the way they unleash their brutality and humiliate gay suspects to force a confession out. While the degrading representation of gay people could be one of the reasons why the film was lambasted by critics on its original release, the film suffers from other technical problems too. First, there is a lot of focus on depicting too much of the sleazy side of gay nightclubs and very little time developing the characters at hand. Apparently 40 minutes of footage was taken out from the film to bring down the certification from an X rating to an R rating and it is just as well! One very important character who is also a suspect is just suddenly introduced; a couple of scenes thrown in here and there are supposed to do the character building and there's a possible motivation depicted in a fleeting, haphazard manner, so much so that it simply fails to register and comes across as a rather dabbler job. The police procedural aspect of the film isn't very appealing either. Moreover, although there are cops exhibiting gray shades, most aren't developed well and are quite forgettable, unlike in Friedkin's aforementioned other films in which all the characters including the supporting ones have a lasting effect.


Then there is the problematic casting of Al Pacino. Apart from giving him that horrendous curly-haired look, the major problem is the failure on Pacino's part to bring any kind of androgynous quality to his character, which, Friedkin had a problem with as well. Even if he is a straight undercover cop pretending to be gay, he has to do a darned good job of pretending, otherwise what's the point! That would've added a versatile touch to his acting which is sorely missing. Apparently Richard Gere was Friedkin's first choice for the role because he thought Gere would've delivered that kind of attribute to the character. Pacino's Burns, though, walks, talks and acts like a tough guy in most of the scenes, thus, clearly standing out from the rest of the crowd. At one point, he smokes like Michael Corleone and in another scene he assumes the swagger of Tony Montana! It is surprising, then, that the others don't recognize him to be an outsider. Maybe the curly hair was there just so that he could 'look' different. If only he acted differently as well. So, indeed, Pacino does well ...but in the end he doesn't go much beyond his usual self! Only in a couple of scenes we see the angst...the troubled, worried look on his face conveying that he is clearly not enjoying his job, as he confesses to Captain Edelson ("...not that I am's just that .. things are happening to me..") and to his girlfriend Nance (Karen Allen, who, by the way, doesn't serve any purpose in the film except for being in bed with Pacino). There is only one scene that makes it remotely clear that Burns doesn't "want" Nance anymore. We don't really know that until she says it out loud.


What does work on some level is Burns' reaction to her claim! He says something like "my is affecting me". He is not supposed to tell her what his undercover operation is. So whether it is making him question his sexual preferences or whether it is taking a toll on his health is unclear. In one love-making scene between the two, midway in the film, Burns appears either disturbed or disgusted. This is where the complex trait of his character starts creeping in. It serves as a solid device for a film of this sort. There are a lot of clever scenes where Burns comes across as a rather vague don't really know what he stands for! The equivocal nature of Pacino's character is then the best part of this film.


There are still more positives, of course...."Cruising" isn't a 'bad' film anyhow! There is also a very unsettling atmosphere in the film. New York by night appears at its grittiest best, reminding of Scorsese's classics "Taxi Driver" and "Mean Streets". A fair amount of suspense is built up to the climax and the final fifteen minutes including the deliciously ambiguous twist make the film stand apart from conventional cop thrillers. It is good to see Joe Spinell (Willi Cicci of 'The Godfather') in the role of a crooked cop, sharing screen space with his The Godfather co-actor, Pacino (He shared a scene with De Niro in "Taxi Driver"!). Some scenes in the nightclub and a couple of murder scenes are genuinely disturbing and well directed.

"Cruising" is a film that had a lot of potential owing to a solid premise. But it only succeeds partially. If only it wasn't such a half-hearted effort on the part of Friedkin, he would've had another fine Cop thriller feather in his cap to stand tall with his best films of the genre. Alas...

Score: 7/10.
March 21, 2012
Aditya Gokhale
Aditya Gokhale

Super Reviewer

Friedkin uses the gay leather scene to show NYC as an abattoir where two will go out at night to play a game trading turns as butcher and meat. They often get more than they bargained for when sizing each other up. "Cruising" means hunting for sex-prey-death. The hetero-macho cop world and Gay S&M bars supposedly fetishize this erotic and lonely compulsion more than the "straight" world, which just ignores the mayhem and lets it go on.

There's a lot of dumb use of stereotypes; the side of Pacino's character that we should know about is underdeveloped; and some plot jumps are insulting -- to the characters and to our good sense. Eventually, you get the feeling that this foray into a controversial subculture is not really complex and considered as much as it might be another cheap horror show. And as a horror show, it's only unique because it always risks being bigoted and because it's transgressive with sexual identity. The hetero-male viewer shares Pacino's voyeuristic perspective and the female viewer is wondering about what might attract that male viewer. (Karen Allen doesn't get to do much, but she does get to try on her boyfriend's gay gear.)

Pacino begins as a sensitive undercover cop and transforms into a violent hunter, who's afraid of either his capacity for affection or his hidden drives. Somehow, his repulsion at the police abuse of a gay sex suitor is the catalytic event that makes Pacino embrace his pathology and enjoy testing the prowess of the killer inside him against that of the serial killer he's tracking. It's an emotional trigger which is not easy to believe. Easier to believe is that he's intrigued with this cruising world partly because he's testing his inclination that "nothing human is alien to me."

It should be said that although Friedkin tries to build layers of ambiguity throughout the whole film, he undercuts all that work at the end, in coaching Paul Sorvino -- who's good as the stoic police captain -- to let his last scene fill with emotional facial expressions. The captain's out-sized reaction to another murder pushes the audience too much toward one conclusion: Pacino's character, soon to be detective, has been cursed with a Joe-Estzerhas final twist.

Not sure whether what happens to this cop is meant to challenge the male egos in the audience -- as in, how close to aggressive gayness can you stay and still be heterosexual? Maybe it's supposed to show how living through excess-abandon can drive people to not care about one body from another, at least enough to let gender get in the way. Regardless, using different actors, dressed in the same gear, for the killer -- which is both confusing and a cheat in the mystery -- isn't metaphysically intriguing enough to excuse the fact that those same actors are playing the past and future victims. This seems like blaming the victims for enabling the killers, an idea that goes beyond controversial; it's sociopathic, especially since the screams of two victims electronically curlicue into pig squeals.

Great soundtrack put together by Jack Nietzsche, great sound design, proper use of Joe Spinell as human horror, interesting Powers Boothe cameo, and sordidly bizarre Bruno Kirby cameo. -- Why did Kirby want to do this? In fact, why did Friedkin or Pacino? ... This question of project choices becomes the most resonant one of the movie! Did they want to prove to themselves that "nothing human is alien to definitely brilliant but securely heterosexual artists"? Or were they being flamboyant heterosexual artists who, believing their own genius for "serious" subject matter, secretly felt they deserved their own chance to do camp?
September 12, 2010

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • La Chasse - Cruising (FR)
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