Friedkin followed up Sorcerer with a Dino de Laurentiis produced comedy about Boston’s biggest bank heist. The Brink’s Job, released in 1978, starred Peter Falk and Peter Boyle and was a minor success. The next film, however, saw a large amount of controversy levelled against it for the depiction of a gay subculture involving S&M.
Cruising (1980) stars Al Pacino as Steve Burns, a cop that goes undercover to catch a serial killer murdering gay men in New York. On the surface, and within context of the material, it’s rife with homophobia and feels like it can barely contain its disgust. Friedkin was forced to cut the film against his better judgement in order to secure a rating from MPAA. For years he’s talked about a Director’s Cut but it looks as if large amounts of extra footage have been destroyed by United Artists.
Yet Cruising’s elliptical quality and borderline incomprehensibility helps deliver a peculiar narrative where, it suggests, Burns might be the killer himself. At one point he tells his girlfriend “there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”
Cruising, much like Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, depicts New York as a corrupt, dark, ill environment. Even ordinary people might really be killers. Friedkin again demonstrates his ear for music by using an abrasive, sourced punk soundtrack featuring bands such as The Germs. Today Cruising is seen as a cult classic and certainly inspired the likes of Gaspar Noe.
The 1980s weren’t great for Friedkin apart from another cult classic delivered with To Live and Die in L.A. (1985). He produced a flop with Chevy Chase (Deal of the Century) and returned to his roots in television making The C.A.T. Squad. Rampage, the little seen 1988 movie about capital punishment, is noticeable for an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.
Friedkin’s work is often dismissed but his influence on genre cinema is growing and admirers gathered. There is always something of note – good or bad – to be gleaned in his work. He is somebody deserving of serious critical re-appraisal. Yes, the films can appear macho, simplistic and downright ludicrous but there is often masterful demonstration of technique which lifts the material (sometimes). In an interview for the Bug DVD release he freely admitted his own failings. “I’ve made films that frankly don’t work and I can see they don’t work. Unfortunately for me, the rest of the world can see it too. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t often succeed.”
He isn’t a prolific talent either. In over forty years there have been a mere eighteen movies. The 1990s saw only three Friedkin projects come to fruition: The Guardian (which is absolutely his worst film), Blue Chips (a basketball drama with a script by Ron Shelton) and Jade (1995).