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A steamy, genuinely suspenseful thriller
on 26 January 2006
Sea of Love is certainly a better than average steamy crime thriller, but it didn't really bowl me over. Pacino's very good, of course, and Ellen Barkin more than holds her own against him, but Pacino's character can become tiresome after a while, and what I regard as a pretty sizeable red herring thrown into your lap midway through the story makes the ending a little less dramatic. I'm not saying the mystery is predictable – it's just not that shocking of a surprise.
Frank Keller (Al Pacino) isn't exactly Steve McGarrett material when it comes to his career as a detective, mainly because the guy is basically pretty pathetic. His wife left him for another detective on the force, and he's not handling that very well – drunken calls in the middle of the night to his ex-wife are not uncommon. The guy drinks like a fish all day and all night, whether he's on duty or not, he gets into serious shoving matches with other cops, and he spends more time getting under the skin of his fellow detective (and ex-wife's new man) than investigating the crime at the scene of the film's opening murder. Later on, he gets into a serious relationship with one of the murder suspects, which has to break a lot of rules in the old code of conduct. About all he gleans from the first murder is the fact that someone plugged a fat naked guy in the back of his head and that the killer was apparently a big fan of the song Sea of Love. Fortunately for him, a Queens detective (played by John Goodman) working on a similar case teams up with him on a two-man task force to find the mutual killer. The common thread linking the murders together is the fact that each victim had recently placed a poetic personal ad in the newspaper. Since no one seems to have bothered looking at any of the evidence too closely, Keller and Detective Sherman (Goodman) decide to place a similar ad in the paper, meet all of the women who respond, get their prints and compare them with those found at the murder scenes, and break the case wide open.
Keller meets Helen (Ellen Barkin) at one of these undercover dates. She blows him off early on, before she even comes close to leaving a fingerprint on anything. When they meet accidentally soon thereafter, though, a spark is lit, and the two are lovers before you can say Jack Sprat. Frank puts his feelings for Helen above his job, thereby leaving Helen hanging out there as a possible murder suspect. This is where all of the suspense comes in; is she or isn't she? The story zigs and zags both ways on the question, leaving the viewer in a measure of doubt until the very end. The whole thing turns into a weird love story for the most part, with Frank trying to avoid losing Helen even as he sometimes wonders whether she's the killer he's looking for. It is quite suspenseful, largely thanks to Ellen Barkin's very strong performance. The ultimate ending's a little weak, but that takes nothing at all away from the sustained mystery that will command your rapt attention all the way up to that point.
It's not hard to see why the movie was so successful. It just goes to show what good acting and a reasonably strong script can do for a movie. There are probably two camps when it comes to the ending, I should note – but it's not a hate it or love it thing. Some will not find it all that surprising, while others may feel as if it comes right out of left field. Either way, Sea of Love is a film that all fans of steamy thrillers can lose themselves in and, at the very least, come out feeling reasonably satisfied.