My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.

This week focuses on four films by one of my favorite directors, William Friedkin.



Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I was not as enamored with William Friedkin’s SORCERER during this recent viewing. I’d forgotten that it takes nearly an hour of runtime to get into the mission with the trucks, realizing that what most of us remember and talk about in this movie is only the second half.

It takes Friedkin 25 minutes to get through the introduction of his characters. Is this really necessary? I found it to be a bloated opening, dragging its feet when the real story of the movie is in the jungle. Once we get to the third world village, the film starts to pick up but even then it doesn’t really start up till nearly an hour in…

I know it’s sacrilege but I would suggest a different order in the edit:

-Open with Scanlon’s flashback (only)
-Go straight to the accident at the oil field in the jungle
-Show Scanlon in his current state in the village
-Introduce the others, we don’t know who they are or anything about them
-Bring the oil guys in to look for suicidal candidates
-The four are chosen
-While they’re on the mission, use flashes to show pieces of their history, revealing that like Scanlon they are fugitives for one reason or another

The movie already uses flashes for other reasons so that technique would not feel out of place. I think that would make a tighter, more effective movie but what do I know? Billy would probably tell me to “fuck off.”

The last hour is still unforgettable, still astonishing. And of course, this movie deserves to be discussed over and over and over again.

Watched on Criterion Channel.



Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This was my second viewing of CRUISING. On a rewatch, the film loses its shock appeal and becomes a cop thriller with an unusual setting and subject matter. I consider that a good thing; I was able to put the film’s controversial reputation aside and enjoy Friedkin’s craftsmanship.

CRUISING is a solid suspense film. It’s interesting that Criterion calls it a riff on the “Giallo” subgenre. I can see that now, whether Friedkin was conscious of it or not his film embodies a euro-thriller vibe and its ambiguous conclusion reminds me of the sometimes abstract thrillers from the other side of the Atlantic.

What I appreciated most on this watch was the steady pacing, the lack of indulgence, and Paul Sorvino’s performance. The film isn’t a nail-biting thriller; it really takes its time going from situation to situation, more of a character study. Though filled with great lighting, it also doesn’t indulge in style. Friedkin could have leaned far more into the club scene and made a self consciously stylized picture. Instead, he approached sometimes shocking subject matter with more subtlety than he showed in FRENCH CONNECTION or THE EXORCIST. Finally, Paul Sorvino’s performance, not Al’s, grounds the picture. As the worn out detective, he staggers through the film, exhausted. I could truly feel how much crime weighs on his shoulders. Of the roles I’ve seen him play, this is my favorite Sorvino character.

Watched on Criterion Channel.



Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

William Friedkin did not have a touch for comedy. Yes, his best films have hilarious moments but they’re mixed into a tragic context. His funniest movie is KILLER JOE, a dark, disturbing tale with some truly laugh out loud moments. But here, helming a Chevy Chase flick, things are all out of whack.

Next time you watch DEAL OF THE CENTURY, imagine every sequence as if it was played seriously, as if the film were a dramatic thriller about arms dealing. Truth be told, the movie is almost there as it is. There’s barely a hint of humor throughout this oddly written “comedy” and most of the performances are played with a more dramatic tone. In every scene I wondered, “How good could this movie have been with almost the exact same script and even the same cast if Friedkin had made it a grim, serious look at arms dealing?” I think it would have been his TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, a South American-set crime picture with a banter-filled romance. I even believed he could have gotten a great dramatic performance out of Chase. And it would have allowed the filmmaker, one of our best, to follow his instincts.

Watched on Criterion Channel.


JADE (1995)

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

As another 90s thriller, JADE would be watchable, sometime sexy, and fairly mindless entertainment. As an entry in William Friedkin’s filmography, it will always disappoint though it did so a little less this time around.

His contribution to the erotic thriller subgenre that was so popular in the 80s/90s is not actually very erotic and like his mediocre work in comedy (GOOD TIMES, DEAL OF THE CENTURY), I wonder if sensuality is really something Friedkin had a talent for portraying (KILLER JOE might be the exception). In his memoir, he claims he did some of his best work here. I’m sad that I’ll never be able to drink coffee with Billy and ask him what in JADE he was proud of. I know the chase scene is part of it and it certainly is impressive, exhausting and wild. But what it lacks that both FRENCH CONNECTION and TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. have is that obsessive passion. David Caruso, solid in the lead, isn’t a maniac like Hackman or Petersen. He doesn’t have that energy; probably more a mistake from the writers than the actor, who I suspect would have gone wherever Billy wanted him to go.

That lack of obsession and intensity in the lead carries through the entire picture. Would you know Friedkin directed this if you weren’t told? I don’t think so. And therefore, on its own, JADE is enjoyable and forgettable. In light of Friedkin’s body of work, it’s an odd and disappointing addition.

Watched on Criterion Channel.