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Sea of Love
★★★☆☆
First run Seenmorethanonce Theater cinema Screening room Tv laptop

Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin give memorable star turns in this unabashed piece of Hollywood entertainment that delivers exactly what it promises and more. Pacino plays Frank Keller, a divorced alcoholic Manhattan detective celebrating twenty years on the job and trying to catch a serial killer who finds victims through the singles column in a magazine. He teams up with a Queens-based detective (John Goodman in a terrific supporting performance) when the killer seems to be working both boroughs. When the evidence points to the “doer” being a woman, Frank hits upon an idea for a sting operation to catch potential suspects. While undercover, he becomes romantically entangled with his prime suspect (played with sultry abandon by Barkin). The premise of a hero who becomes sexually and romantically involved with someone who might want to murder you is one that’s been trotted out many times before and after Sea of Love—from Jagged Edge, Suspect, and Fatal Attraction in the ’80s to Basic Instinct and countless direct-to-video “sexy-thrillers” in the ‘90s. But the prolific crime novelist-turned-screenwriter Richard Price (The Wanderers, The Color of Money, and Martin Scorsese’s entry in New York Stories) finds all kinds of ways to make the contrived plot machinations required for a mystery of this type feel fresh, inventive, and even surprising. And Price’s ear for dialogue not only feels authentically “cop,” it’s often clever and funny.

The film is special because of the chemistry between Pacino and his co-stars. There’s genuine warmth between him and Goodman and palpable heat between him and Barkin. The screenplay is so nimble it is able to charm us more than willingly into major suspension of disbelief. Also going a long way towards setting this movie apart from other’s of its ilk is the terrific supporting cast, which includes wonderful little turns by William Hickey, Richard Jenkins, Paul Calderon, John Spencer, and Samuel L. Jackson in a tiny role (credited only as "Black Guy") that perfectly captures the critical importance of casting just the right actors in even the seemingly most inconsequential of roles. 

Critics and audiences greeted Sea of Love with rapturous enthusiasm as a kind of comeback for Pacino. Apart from Hugh Hudson and Irwin Winkler’s disastrous British historical drama Revolution (1985), the well-loved New York actor and movie star hadn’t appeared on screen since his iconic star-turn in Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). Now here he was back playing a New York cop in a smart, racy, well-made work of top-shelf pulp.

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In an unabashed piece of top-shelf Hollywood pulp that delivers everything it promises and more, Al Pacino is a New York cop hunting a serial killer and Ellen Barkin is the prime suspect whom he can't help falling in love with.

Directed by Harold Becker
Produced by Martin Bregman and Louis A. Stroller

Written by Richard Price

With: Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, John Goodman, Michael Rooker, William Hickey, Richard Jenkins, Paul Calderon, Gene Canfield, Larry Joshua, John Spencer, Christine Estabrook, Ángel Ramírez, and Samuel L. Jackson

Cinematography: Ronnie Taylor
Editing: David Bretherton
Music: Trevor Jones

Runtime: 113 min
Release Date: 15 September 1989
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color