I heard about "Cruising" sometime last year and couldn't imagine Al Pacino playing an undercover cop whose job was to infiltrate the "leather-daddy" gay club community in the underground. Thanks to Netflix online I was able to see good old Al complete with a curly Al-fro that could have only been fashionable in 1980. Lucky for him, that's when this film was made.
"Cruising" is essentially a thriller, a who-'dun-it murder mystery about a serial killer who is stabbing members of the gay community to death. And no, the killer is not a fundamentalist Christian, just to get that out of the way. Like all good thrillers it manages to keep the audience on edge, and not just because the prospect of murder lurks around the corner. The community it depicts is so strange, so surreal - or at least it was to me - that walking through the leather clad underbelly of gay urban life with Al Pacino feels downright dangerous and deviant. It is a frightening world inhabited by people who are there solely for sex, and personhood never enters the picture.
Is the film accurate? According to the gay community, not exactly. But the film, which was directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist), is not necessarily about accuracy. It's about a serial killer who disposes of gay men. The strangest element of all was that, during Al Pacino's time in the underground he professes to his superior officer that "something's happening" to him and he cannot take much more of it. Are we to believe that he is becoming gay? He has a girlfriend, and the film seems to want to convince us that by spending enough time amongst members of the gay community, same-sex attraction suddenly sets in. It's a strange thought, and one that may be symptomatic of thought about homosexuality at the time of the film's creation.
"Cruising" is a worthwhile thriller, and Pacino is stone-cold strange in it. It's a film that has become a cult-classic and, upon viewing it, it is evident why. It is not for the faint of heart, the homophobic, etc. There is no graphic gay sex in it (for which I was grateful), but there are times where I found myself cringing a bit. It's a lot to handle, but it is a document of an underground world that you might never see otherwise, and it is one that you might never want to see again after the credits roll.