Sunday 24 November 2019

Movie Review: Sea Of Love (1989)

A crime mystery and romance, Sea Of Love is a polished thriller with an engaging premise and good cast, but the film also chases many threads and loses some in the process.

In New York City, police detective Frank Keller (Al Pacino) has reached 20 years of service with no plans to retire. Still not recovered from the breakup of his marriage and drinking heavily, he starts to investigate the murder of a man found naked on his bed and shot through the back of the head, with Phil Phillips' Sea of Love left playing continuously on the turntable. A similar murder in Queens results in detective Sherman Touhey (John Goodman) joining forces with Frank, with clues in both cases pointing to the killer being a woman.

Concluding that the victims were likely killed by a date arranged through magazine personal ads, Frank and Sherman create a sting operation by placing their own ad and going on a series of dates to collect women's fingerprints. One of Frank's dates is Helen Cruger (Ellen Barkin), a spirited single mother and shoe store manager. They start a steamy relationship, with Frank falling in love and convincing himself she is not the killer, but their affair is both passionate and dangerous.

Marking Al Pacino's return to the big screen after a four year hiatus, Sea Of Love offers a bit of everything. A murder mystery with an unknown killer, a detective story featuring a budding friendship and camaraderie between two investigators, a central protagonist in Frank going through a serious mid-life crisis and an inability to cope with a marriage break-up, and Helen as a love interest trying to construct a romantic life as a single mom with a full-time job.

Add in some steamy sex, close-up violence and layers of real and possible lies, and it's remarkable the Richard Price script holds together as well as it does. Director Harold Becker does his best to steer the film is several directions at once, but can only do so much. Once the passion erupts between Frank and Helen the murder investigation aspects are shoved to the background. Frank may be convinced Helen is not the killer, but appears to lose interest altogether in finding the real murderer.

The film's discontinuous attention spans are made tolerable by Pacino and Barkin. He remains well within himself in a relatively calm performance, allowing Frank's slow descent into career and personal depression to gradually wash over him. Barkin is even more subtle, the is-she or isn't-she puzzle demanding a performance that works both ways, and she delivers with an edgy combination of determination, doubt and sensuality.

But a murderer still has to be unmasked, and in the final act Price resorts to borderline cheating and reliance on some sloppy police work to get back to the business of crime solving. Sea Of Love rolls onto a decent shoreline, a bit wet but still serviceable.

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