Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Film Review: BLUE STEEL (1989, Kathryn Bigelow)

Stars: 3.9 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Written by Eric Red (writer of THE HITCHER, NEAR DARK, BODY PARTS) and Kathryn Bigelow. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Clancy Brown (EXTREME PREJUDICE, HIGHLANDER, Kelvin on TV's LOST), Ron Silver (SILENT RAGE), Tom Sizemore, Louise Fletcher (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, THE EXORCIST II), Richard Jenkins (THE VISITOR, BURN AFTER READING), Elizabeth Peña (JACOB'S LADDER, LONE STAR). Produced by Oliver Stone and Edward R. Pressman.
Tag-line: "For a rookie cop, there's one thing more dangerous than uncovering a killer's fantasy. Becoming it."
Best one-liner: "Hey man... DO I LOOK LIKE I'M FUCKING ORDERING TAKE OUT?"

If credulity is a rubber band, then BLUE STEEL stretches it all the way from Battery Park to Washington Heights. And that's okay. As in POINT BREAK, Kathryn Bigelow is more interested in a character study that involves deep immersion in the ‘first-person adrenaline rush’ than a realistic police procedural. The film drips with style- it's full of fetishistic close-ups of revolver chambers spinning and whirring in eye-popping slow-mo.

Shafts and beams of sunlight cut and slice through tableaus like a thousand hot knives through butter. It looks great.

The acting is first-rate, as well– Jamie Lee Curtis sells her hardass cop 110%.

Ron Silver, as the Wall Street psycho, sometimes goes over the top,

but he always remains connected to the role, even when bathing himself in a hooker's steaming blood.

Clancy Brown is at once severe, classy and affable. He's the kind of cop who, while keeping tabs on Jamie Lee Curtis, breaks into her apartment and helps himself to her corn chips.


Later, during a memorable confrontation with Silver, his steely-eyed gaze nearly bores a hole through the damn screen.

Ron Silver's intense stare: intense.

Clancy Brown's intense stare: DAMNED intense.

The always-talented Louise Fletcher (as Jamie Lee's mom), Richard Jenkins (as a skeezy lawyer), and Tom Sizemore (as himself):

are around for bit parts, too. Oliver Stone and Edward Pressman were co-producers on this film, and occasionally shifts in atmosphere remind one of WALL STREET or TALK RADIO.

Regardless, if there's a problem here, it's in the script. The deck hasn't been stacked this ludicrously since DIRTY HARRY. There's an abusive spouse subplot that is so hackneyed, it actually involves a can of beer getting popped open, followed by the line "Hey, she fell down the stairs!" The events that lead to Jamie Lee getting suspended and then earning her detective's badge within 5 minutes are appalling ("I don't like it, but we gotta give you your shield- I wish there was some other way"). Woww. But I kinda knew all this when I signed up for it, so… Nearly four stars is incredibly generous, but, hey, I'm a generous guy.

Side note: I would also cite this as a major influence on (or at least a point of departure for) Bret Easton Ellis' AMERICAN PSYCHO (1991) and the subsequent film.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

This is one odd-kilter film that doesn't seem to know what kind of film it wants to be but you're right about the style. Bigelow could shoot people waiting in line at the DMV and make it look sexy and exciting. That's just the way she rolls.

Nice to see Clancy Brown playing a good guy (if memory serves) for a change. Just watched HIGHLANDER again last night and was reminded what a scary bad guy he can play when he puts his mind to it. The way he's photographed in that film transforms his character into the ultimate badass. Which, of course, he is.

Sean Gill said...

Clancy is definitely a deserving member of the pantheon of underrated, asskicking character actors (Henriksen, Ironside, Kotto, Silva, Boothe, etc., etc.) who seem to pop up in almost everything. The highlight of BLUE STEEL, for me, is the staredown between Clancy and Ron Silver- it combines the unbridled intensity of theatrical, operatic performance with a set-up that could only exist in corny genre cinema. Perfect.