Monday, January 22, 2018

Reserved Seating Goes All Pacino: SEA OF LOVE

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo that loves the Yankees but not enough to know what they look like.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: Our monthly Al Pacino retrospective continues with his 1989 comeback film, Sea of Love, which is a movie I’ve almost watched at least twenty times over the years but never did until this past weekend. It’s good! I really, really liked it.

In Sea of Love, Pacino plays New York City homicide detective Frank Keller who is on the case of a killer finding victims in the singles column of the newspaper (how’s that for old-fashioned?). While on the case, Pacino and his partner (played winningly as always by John Goodman) basically go on speed dates to find their killer through process of fingerprint elimination. Along the way, Keller’s world turns topsy turvy when he meets the most desireable shoe salesman in recorded history, a single mother named Helen Cruger (played by Ellen Barkin) and falls madly in love with her. The usual thriller elements play out, but there’s also a lot of quirk and surprise in Sea of Love and that’s what made it such an entertaining watch for me. Rob, what did you think of Sea of Love and did you know that if Helen married Frank and took his name that her name would then be Helen Keller? That can’t be a coincidence, right? I love this Al Pacino series. There is so much to talk about with this movie. I’m also relieved that I now know which movie the “Pacino smoke and a shot” GIF comes from.
Rob: I’d also never seen Sea of Love until this viewing, and I thought it was a ton of fun. It’s a well-crafted ‘80s thriller and a perfect lead role for Pacino in this stage of his career. He’s in that great middle place between enigmatic and insane, grizzled enough to play a drunk and overworked detective but charming enough to play the relatable romantic lead. I loved his chemistry with John Goodman (who’s playing slightly against type in an interesting way) and would gladly have watched two hours of that speed-dating game where they take turns being the waiter. Ellen Barkin’s role takes a little time to come together, but her mix of sensuality and vulnerability really sells the drama later on. I appreciated the way she and Pacino’s characters are blended thematically — the way they’re both hunting for someone in the single’s columns for different-but-not-actually-different reasons — and the way Pacino’s blustering self-destruction with rivals like Richard Jenkins’ character (his partner/his ex-wife’s new husband) melts into a kind of sheepish honesty with Barkin. Speaking of Jenkins, this cast is stacked: Jenkins, Goodman, John Spencer, Michael Rooker, Samuel L. Jackson (in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him part). On and on.

If I have one criticism, it’s the mystery and its resolution. One of my favorite moments of the film is when Pacino decides not to take Barkin’s fingerprints for evidence. That dynamic — the idea that Pacino knows she might be the killer but likes her so much that he doesn’t care — isn’t played hard enough. The middle of the film drags a little, and I thought more focus on Pacino’s inner struggle with his conscience as a cop might have helped. The filmmakers seemed to want it both ways with Barkin’s character and ended up punting on something that could have been interesting. The end reveal is fine in a wish fulfillment kind of way, and it was ultimately the right move, but I was just the slightest bit disappointed.

As for the Helen Keller thing: I guarantee you’re the only person who’s ever caught that. Al would be proud.

Adam: To be fair the Helen Keller thing was something I read online.
I agree with you that the mystery is not the strong spot of the film, but rather the dynamic between the characters. I like that they (Pacino, Barkin, Goodman) are messy people in their personal lives unlike their occupational personas. Barkin has the toughest acting job because her character is a little underwritten. Her motivations aren’t always clear, but that is in service of the thriller elements. Nevertheless, she has such a screen presence here that she makes an impact with her attitude alone. It’s great that this movie features a romance with a man in his late forties and a woman in her mid-thirties. That’s rare in this day and age and the relationship is treated mostly realistically, considering the speed dating dynamic. Remind me to tell you my Sea of Love speed dating story later on. I have had experiences in real life that this movie reminded me of a lot. Like, a lot.

Also, yes, the supporting cast in this movie is incredible. It was jarring seeing Richard Jenkins because he looks like he’s aged five years in the 28 years that have passed since this film’s release. My favorite things about Sea of Love are that Pacino is basically like a gimmick cop. He’s all “I want to take down these bad guys. Let’s have a Yankees brunch!” (why is a homicide detective busting low level criminals, btw?) or “I want to take down this killer. Let’s go on some speed dates!” I want Detective Keller to have his own weekly television series. Also, there are so many weird nuggets in this film. I love that Pacino’s apartment pretty much looks unchanged since the 1970s but he has a cartoon alligator (crocodile?) shower curtain for some reason. It’s really strange for a man his age. I was also into the final scene, which is goofy and out of step with the rest of the movie but in the most charming way possible. There’s a moment where Pacino (who is pursuing Barkin down a street in a way that looks like a warm-up to his Frankie & Johnny performance) makes Barkin break and smile and then he gets shoved out of the way by an extra and runs back to her like an eager puppy. It’s really charming. I read Pacino and Barkin got along on set and it bleeds through into their performances. There’s a strong level of play happening there.
Rob: I would totally watch Gimmick Cop. Hell, I would help write Gimmick Cop. Speaking of which, some of Pacino’s best acting tics are on display in this movie, my favorite being the one where he’ll be talking to someone and then decide about halfway through the conversation to stare at one spot on the wall until they’re done talking, almost as if he’s already foreseen how the conversation will end and has started devoting brain power to other things. He does it six or seven times in Sea of Love, and it makes me laugh every time. I also agree that he and Barkin are pretty damn magical together, which makes up for that slightly cringeworthy scene with the starter pistol where he shoves her into a closet and then pins her to the bed. It’s certainly appropriate for the scene, and it’s totally unfair to judge a movie from 1989 through such a modern lens, but it made me fidget in my seat a little. Anyway, back to things I love, like how Pacino places the ad using the love poem his teenage mother wrote for his father back in the day. I love even more that his father has had it memorized all this time. This movie is adorable.

Alright, I’m not sure I can wait much longer for the speed dating story.

Adam: I have gone to singles events and speed dates in my time. I recognize almost every woman that Pacino and Goodman go out with (by type, I mean) and the dialogue in these scenes is pretty accurate in the mix of cynicism and hopefulness. Barkin being the aggressor, demanding animal attraction right away, is pretty commonplace. The specific experience I was referring to, though, was a Jdate I went on about five years ago. I met a girl and we went out to dinner. Before the date, she texted me asking how excited I was about the date. I texted back I was a 9. She wrote back “JUST A 9?” We met at the bar of a Japanese restaurant. She joined me and we started drinking together. Then our table was ready and we ate. Something was off, because she was way too good looking to be on speed dates, provocatively dressed for Wrigleyville, and into me to a degree that was uncomfortable because we had just met. I asked her after dinner if she wanted to go to a different bar and continue the night. She kissed me (in the restaurant) but said no and that she had a ride waiting for her outside. I said “When did you call for a ride?” and she said “My friend has been waiting outside this entire time, but don’t worry.” I was very thrown off by this answer and weirded out even more because we were on this date for more than two hours. We agreed to end the night there and see each other again at a later date.

Cut to the next weekend and I’m trying to make plans with her. I asked her if she wanted to meet up at a different place (I can’t remember where we were supposed to go) and she said “Why don’t we spend the night together?” I wanted to so I said “Um, ok, your place?” and she was like “No, I live with my mother. Give me your address. I’ll come over.” I asked her how, because on the first date she said she didn’t have a car. She said “I’ll rent one.” I was like “Ummmm…..let me call you back in a few minutes.” I waited about an hour and said “How about we just meet at a bar somewhere in the city?” She said “I am already on the way to your place, Adam.” I said “How? You don’t know where I live.” She then said “You live in (Adam’s town). You told me the other night.” I replied “I’m confused. Where are you actually going? The village sign or something?” She then said “I’m trying to make this real easy on you.” I was totally weirded out at this point and she goes “GIVE ME YOUR ADDRESS!” I said no and then I overheard her talking to a guy in the car she was in and he was pissed at her because I hadn’t given her the address yet. I hung up. She called me back maybe thirty times that night. It was scary. Years later I read something very similar to this about a guy who used a dating site, his date went back to his place and then the date came back the next night with a bunch of guys to rob the online dater and, oh yeah, he was murdered, too. This is why I don’t date people on the internet anymore. So anyways... I’m going to vote a Mark Ahn for Sea of Love.

P.S. I need to rewatch this movie to see that move Pacino is doing where he looks at a spot on the wall. What is one of the scenes he does that in?
Rob: an absolutely insane story and we’re totally adapting it for the first episode of Gimmick Cop. Nice job not getting killed! I’m also Mark Ahn for Sea of Love. I’m going to YouTube the Pacino thing, but I remember him doing it during the scene where he’s talking to the doorman about the Sex Parade or whatever he called it. I’ll look for more. Everyone check out Sea of Love, for real. It was good to see Pacino all smiles in this movie during what was a pretty intense time in his career.

Adam: Before we close I also want to say that I’ve now seen three of the five Pacino movies from the ‘80s and this is my favorite so far. Sorry, Scarface fans. And Cruising fans. My lord is that movie fucked up. Until next time...

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. For some damn reason, I have remembered a single line of dialogue from this film for 28 years. At one point Pacino says to Barkin, “ Do you know what it’s like to be a cop? People lie to you all day long.”

    1. Yeah. I was really taken aback (in a good way) by how lived-in and authentic a lot of Pacino, Barkin and Goodman's dialogue was.

    2. The cop stuff, especially. The cops have that work-a-day approach that reminded me of The Wire.

  2. We all know that come the wet ass hour, Pacino is everyone's daddy.

  3. Finally got around to reading this ... Have not seen Sea of Love, but sounds like it's worth seeing.

    That dating story Adam ... I think we all have those "close calls" in our life that we don't even realize just how close of a call they were until later and we somehow blundered into making the right decision. Those are thought-provoking and always get me deep into pondering the importance of luck vs fate vs smarts in our lives. I'd like to think smarts always wins, but sometimes I dunno. I've been damn lucky at times.