Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Ron Silver, Clancy Brown, Elizabeth Pena, Louise Fletcher, Philip Bosco, Tom Sizemore, and Kevin Dunn
Blue Steel is a battle of wills between two imbalanced people. Because she is a rookie police officer and he is a serial killer, their battle of wills includes large-caliber handguns and, by the end, shrieking bystanders running for cover on the streets of New York. But director and co-writer Kathryn Bigelow puts off that bloody encounter as long as possible, instead building a wickedly suspenseful cat-and-mouse game between the two adversaries. The killer and the cop identify each other fairly early on, but she cannot prove his guilt. Blue Steel twists in on itself and on the rules of the police procedural, as the two enemies begin to taunt one another’s neuroses. We see the cop confronting the killer alone in a park, opening her holster, and asking if he can get to her gun before she can. In retribution, the killer visits the cop’s parents and has coffee with them.
How are the cop and the killer so intimate with pushing one another’s buttons? In Blue Steel's most diabolical twist, the cop (Jamie Lee Curtis) and the killer (Ron Silver) are in love long before she suspects a thing. The cat-and-mouse becomes an elevated, ultraviolent lover’s quarrel, at least for him. Even after their mindgames begin, he tells her how much he loves her and how beautiful she is. He has become obsessed with her, ever since watching her dispatch a convenience store robber, and, as the investigation mounts, she becomes obsessed with him, both as a detective and a jilted lover.
Obviously a plot like this could be open to melodrama and farce. But it is a credit to Bigelow and her actors that they take the movie seriously and we end up taking it seriously as well. Curtis and Silver give juicy performances as the cop and the killer. His is, of course, the more showy role, hearing voices in his head, going into violent rages, and looking thrilled and disgusted after blowing away someone he’s just met on the street. But his best scenes are chilling and whispered, as he speaks to Curtis from the shadows of his office, or sneaks sweet nothings into her ear. Curtis is more subtle: we see her walking down the sidewalk on her first day in uniform, smiling, yet there’s something troubled about her, something lonely. That loneliness plays into her scenes as Silver’s girl, and she has depths of cruelty in her pursuit of him that seem to have been waiting her entire life to be tapped.
The fact that Curtis is a girl cop and not a boy cop is never an issue. No one assumes she is less capable or athletic than her male colleagues and, indeed, within the course of the film we see her perform some impressive feats of violence. Female leads in adventures and mysteries can oftentimes be more interesting than men, because they are permitted to be more vulnerable and therefore more intriguing. Think of Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs and Sigourney Weaver in the first two Alien pictures (don’t think of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, who is so effortlessly superior to her surroundings as to be dull and bloodless). Mel Gibson may be a lot of fun in the Lethal Weapon movies, but I imagine I would react to certain situations a lot more like Foster, Curtis, and Weaver.
In these days of Jackie Chan, John Woo, and Jerry Bruckheimer, movie combat sequences have become more and more absurd. Ludicrous, implausible action has its place, to be certain, but Bigelow directs the gritty, brutal encounters in Blue Steel more-or-less realistically. The movie ends in a spectacular gun battle, first in a subway station, and then on a street, complete with the cumbersome tasks of reloading revolvers and using neckties as makeshift bandages.
Perhaps more to Bigelow’s credit is how delicately she has constructed scenes in which not a shot is fired. I think it was Hitchcock who was quoted as saying that a man jumping out of a closet is only suspenseful if we see him going into the closet first. We know Silver is the killer long before Curtis does and, with this in mind, Bigelow milks every scene they have together as lovers. Their subsequent non-violent encounters border on macabre humor; when she finds him in her parents’ living room, she offers to take his coat, to see if he’s hiding a gun. “No thanks,” he says, tapping his chest suggestively. “I have a cold.” “Yeah,” she replies, making a similar motion. “I think I have that same cold too.”
Blue Steel is not the deepest movie ever made, and we never seem to learn much about the pasts of either of these two individuals. But that is somehow appropriate, as if everything they ever were before meeting each other, and locking into this titanic struggle, has been forgotten. Director Bigelow, who has gone on to direct other character-driven action movies like the bank robber/surfer epic Point Break and the James Cameron-written sci-fi mystery Strange Days, has constructed an effective, tightly-wound thriller. Like Hitchcock, her film hits our fears of madness without and within, of bad romance and maniacs, and slams them into us on a visceral level. When done well, that’s enough.
Finished August 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Friday & Saturday Night
What do you think of Blue Steel
Share your opinions on our forum