blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Sea of Love (1989, Harold Becker)

So, I was worried about Sea of Love. After all, the last movie Richard Price is credited with writing is Shaft (though I realize it was changed from what he wrote by Singleton, who’s just a screenwriting dynamo). So, I was worried. Sea of Love was a film I loved–absolutely loved–when I first got into film, when I finally decided I needed to sit and watch a film, not read at the same time, not sit in the room while it played. Frighteningly, this evolution was late in life–it was 1994 or so, when I was sixteen, the Robocop Criterion laserdisc. I sat and watched it.

I’ve seen Sea of Love since, of course. Universal was a great laserdisc company in the 1990s and I had the Sea of Love laserdisc (I still might, in storage, since I never got around to selling M-Z). The first DVD release was pan and scan, so I missed that, but Universal did a widescreen edition and I rented it from Blockbuster–Netflix is no good if there are two versions.

Sea of Love is a great film. Richard Price’s writing is beautiful. For the first three quarters of the film, until the mystery takes over for a half hour, the nuance is unbelievable. Characters saying things, the meanings involved, just beautiful. Sea of Love is, I think, the last film written by the novelist Richard Price, everything after was by screenwriter Richard Price, who was still good, but reserved the good stuff for his novels (Clockers, incidentally, came from the research he did for Sea of Love).

It’s one of Pacino’s two or three best performances. I actually don’t know, off the top of my head, what I’d assign to the other two slots, because you have to decide between Pacino the star (as much as he is–Pacino is a star in The Godfather, Part II and Heat) and Pacino the regular guy. Pacino’s a regular guy in Sea of Love, when he’s in a fight, there’s a chance he might not make it. Sea of Love is from the era before the happy ending… Though Price would argue otherwise (sorry, I’ve read his collected screenplays and the studios always changed his downer endings).

It’s Ellen Barkin–I never realized how much I miss Ellen Barkin. I’m aware of how much I miss actors like Madeleine Stowe and (good) Elisabeth Shue, but Ellen Barkin’s from before that era of recognition. Barkin’s someone who should have transitioned to some great TV in the early 1990s, she should have gone to “Homicide” or something (damn you, Barry Levinson, you know her!).

I really need to see Night and the City now. I actually probably ought to see both of them, but I was thinking the DeNiro/Lange version.

Anyway, if you haven’t or if you haven’t for awhile, see Sea of Love. It’s New York City when that actually meant something, when it was actually a place that changed people, when the city was still alive. I went to New York City, the first time, in 1987 and it was scary. I didn’t leave Manhattan, so it wasn’t quite Fort Apache, the Bronx, but it was ominous. The second-to-last time I went there, maybe third to last, actually, was in 1999, to see a Broadway Show (“The Wild Party”). It wasn’t scary anymore, it was Disneyland. It doesn’t change people anymore….

2 responses to “Sea of Love (1989, Harold Becker)”

  1. Afonso Alão de Magalhães

    Wow, this review just made my day :). I am absolutely fascinated towards this wonderful forgotten gem, and I was seriously not expecting to find it here :). I definitely put it in the top of my favorite Pacino performances. It’s one of those movies you never get tired of and there is a dangerous, sensuous mystique that makes you dive into it, plus the pink color of the movie and its “smoke” makes it one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen and cherish. Sea of Love really marks the point when you realize all the well-known “masterpieces” in Pacino’s repertoire are really subjective. I cannot compare the suave beauty of Sea of Love with blockbuster hit movies like Carlito’s Way and Heat.

    I am more and more convinced that many times our opinions about a film depend a lot on the moment in which we see it… There are weak films that seduce us, there are masterpieces that our saint does not come across…

    And there are very few absolute truths…

    Kind regards and keep up the good work,


    1. SEA OF LOVE is one of those films people knew about on release, but it slowly got forgotten over the years. It didn’t help Pacino went so bombastic by the late 1990s no one could remember his soulful performances (though sometimes he does do bombastic soul). It’s also a great Ellen Barkin vehicle, of which there are way too few.

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