Cruising (1980)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

A New York City cop goes undercover in New York's gay community to catch a serial killer.

Rating: R (adult situations/language, nudity, violence)
Genre: Mystery & Suspense , Drama
Directed By:
Written By: William Friedkin
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 18, 2007
Warner Bros.


as Steve Burns

as Capt. Edelson

as Stuart Richards

as Ted Bailey

as Patrolman DiSimone

as Skip Lee

as Detective Lefransky

as Dr. Rifkin

as Da Vinci

as Detective Blasio

as Eric Rossman

as Chief of Detectives

as Detective Schreiber

as Detective Davis

as Gregory

as Paul Gaines

as Patrolman Desher

as Martino

as Jack Richards

as Da Vinci's Friend

as Water Sport

as Three Card Monte

as Hankie Salesman

as Bartender

as Det. Schreiber

as Cockpit Coke Man

as Tugboat Mate

as Water Sport
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for Cruising

All Critics (42) | Top Critics (9)

What we're left with is a movie without the courage to declare itself.

Full Review… | June 9, 2014
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

This detective melodrama has something to offend almost everyone.

Full Review… | June 9, 2014
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

What's left is the framework for a graphic, brutal, sickening film, without the violent effects that might have made sense (however illegitimate) out of the conception.

Full Review… | June 9, 2014
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Taking away the kissing, caressing and a few bloody killings, Friedkin has no story, though picture pretends to be a murder mystery combined with a study of Al Pacino's psychological degradation.

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | September 7, 2007
New York Daily News
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | September 6, 2007
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Cruising

Interesting film -- if for no other reason than to see gay stereotypes from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Bold role for Paccino, played convincingly.

Christian C

Super Reviewer


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.

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.

Aditya Gokhale
Aditya Gokhale

Super Reviewer

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