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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Retro Review: Sea Of Love (1989)

Sea of Love
Cast: Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, John Goodman, Michael Rooker
Genre: Thriller
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $110 million

Plot: A detective investigating a series of murders becomes involved with the woman who may be the culprit

'Great Back In 1989, Now Feels Somewhat Dated'

An erotic thriller that is melodramatic and tepid, what was great at the time of its release, watching it throughout today, I wasn't that impressed and felt the story was rather lacking and tired. Yet Pacino's nuanced performance makes a nice change from the typical roles he has been long associated with. Sea of Love was credited as the film that rescued Pacino from the slump that he had endured during the 1980s, but for one exception being Scarface. A whopping hit when it came out right at the end of the decade, these days, Sea of Love has become the kind of film which, to be frank, hardly anyone mentions when it comes to erotic thrillers.

Sea of Love is nothing but a title of a song that is played in the film but is not really relevant to the story. A series of bizarre murders, with all the victims being male, a New York cop, who goes by the name of Frank, has fallen in love with the main suspect in Helen, whilst at the same time he and his partner track down the woman who seems to be targeting her male victims through the use of personal ads.

Barkin was quite good here; though her career didn't take off in the way audiences expected, even after Sea of Love came out. She was very engaging and infuses what little depth her character has with more than enough charm and sensuality to send Pacino to his knees.

This film has an over-inflated reputation; it was good then but today, it's a different story. It's awfully predictable and not as innovative as people say it is, nor the film I'd envisaged it to be when I saw it in the 1990s. There were long periods of droning and dull dialogue being uttered and where virtually nothing exciting happened. The plot twists and developments feel contrived and predictable and with a run-time of almost 2 hours, the story plods along with virtually little tenacity. The surprise reveal of the killer turns out to be largely disappointing, yet this has no particular bearing on the story; it appears that the writers threw that in because he was her husband/ex-husband and for no other apparent reason. Of course, by offering subtle hints, this could've easily given away the answer; at the same time though, even with those hints and those murders, no one could have foreseen him as the killer. Michael Rooker's character is so under-developed, yet exists just so to make him the actual bad guy without any justifiable reasoning. This plot twist is meant to surprise and shock, but without any rationale or comprehension, it feels sewn on. It just happened in the spur of the moment. Barkin's character is both mysterious but also so oblivious, yet flaccid one can't make out the person she is, deep down.

Though even more unsightly there is an unflattering scene of John Goodman half-naked; for an erotic thriller, there is just one sex scene and afterwards scenes of Pacino and Barkin in bed with one another but not having sex with each other. The sex scenes exuded a fair amount of heat to the film's proceedings, as short-lived as they were.

I don't know if by saying this plot-line was executed better than Basic Instinct, because other than the sex scenes, that film also was frankly underwhelming and wasn't as amazing as people lauded it to be. The story here is cliched as anything you have seen in an erotic crime film, the mystery is actually lacking and the direction is often muddled that also doesn't really go anywhere. But for say, the love scene where Frank and Helen begin to make out with each other for the first time, there is no sense of urgency that I found myself bored after that scene as I sat through the film, and the police officers bide their time slowly in investigating these murders. As for the suspense aspect, not only is it underutilised but this is not fully maintained throughout the entirety of the movie, but rather in sporadic bursts.

Ellen Barkin once said in an interview back in 2015 that she did not enjoy making Sea of Love, yet she loved Al Pacino and that everything else about that film was wrong. Although one thing I did like about it is it creates an honest relationship with Frank and Helen. I thought the performances were rather good, and yet the film itself didn't offer more twists, excitement and surprises that I'd come to expect. 

What was considered by many at the time as being provocative, in contrast to many other erotic thrillers, when it comes to the sexual and thrills aspects in Sea of Love, these seem somewhat tame by comparison in today's age.

Final Verdict:

The film hasn't aged well and the narrative isn't that well developed. If you do watch, then watch this for the performances because everything else is so stagnant, including the script and is likewise, not as hard-hitting as it ought to be for a thriller.

Other than that, this is dated, easily forgettable, slow-paced and far from thrilling, and one I can let slide.


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