Having returned to his theatrical roots for five years, Al Pacino returned fully refreshed for this tight thriller, let down only by the implausibility of its denouement. Detective Frank Keller is a good fit for Pacino, or it could just be how skilfully the actor moulds him into a genuine human being: he’s a loner, trying to keep the bitterness at bay, hunkered down in his job, the only place his instincts can live. Imagine Heat’s Vincent Hanna after years on the sauce. In short, a great character.
Little wonder that the sexually vital but vulnerable suspect in this peculiar riff on standard serial-killer dynamics, brings him so recklessly to life. Ellen Barkin’s Helen Cruger is a true sex-bomb using her body like its driven by animal impulses alone. As a screen couple they steam away, giving the standard motion of this thriller a real vitality and predates the is-she-the-killer froth of Basic Instinct by a good four years.
Harold Becker, a hot-cold kind of director (City Hall, Malice), composes a really good script from Richard Price (central theme: loneliness; secondary theme: the perils of sex) into an edgy game. Will Frank’s jovial partner John Goodman talk sense into him before the worst happens? Is she truly the killer? Can their relationship survive all this suspicion, anyway?
Like many of these either-or thrillers, it doesn’t offer enough alternatives to the main debate, painting itself into a corner. So when things finally unravel, and the killer’s fateful identity exposed, it is stage-managed and unsatisfying. But the journey there has been outstanding.