This was one of those movies that I remember knowing about as a kid (I was twelve when it came out) because it was one of those "grown up" movies from the late 80s. It may sound crazy now but there seemed that during the 80s and early/mid 90s the American erotic thriller was a box office draw. Sexy violence and violent sex, it was a modern interpretation of the classic American noir only with more T&A. Body Heat (1981), The Big Easy (1986), Legal Eagles (1986), Angel Heart (1987), No Way Out (1987), Someone to Watch Over Me (1987), Fatal Attraction (1987), Stormy Monday (1988), Frantic (1988), Basic Instinct (1992) are some of the best examples. These weren't straight-to-video Skinemax movies either. These were big-budget (mostly) A-list actors movies and top-notch sultry screen vixens & femme fatales. Frankly, these were movies that made me realize that naked chicks are pretty cool. What? Have you seen movies from when Melanie Griffith couldn't keep her clothes on?
I hadn't seen Sea of Love since I saw it on VHS in the very early 90s. It's on netflix streaming and I saw it on the roster and figured, "Yeah, what the fuck, Ellen Barkin's in it." I'm not a fan of Pacino's caricature work since Scent of a Woman (1992) - though I love his work in the 70s - and I figured it would be campy and I might see Ellen Barkin naked (again).
Turns out, Sea of Love is actually a pretty solid movie from start to finish that isn't really that "steamy". The story isn't that earth-shattering - kind of standard noir if you are familiar with the genre. However, the script and the acting are fucking awesome. Pacino's haggard Detective Frank Keller of the NYPD is a very flawed yet natural character. The aging cop thing is a trope I know but he makes it work. John Goodman delivers an excellent performance as Detective Sherman, Keller's friend and cohort. Pacino and Goodman - and their fellows - have a great on-screen rapport. Their dialogue is natural, the jibes are easy and realistically filthy (and hilarious). It's not forced and just from the comfort the actors seem to have with one another, well it creates an empathy with the viewer.
Pacino and Barkin's onscreen chemistry is, I'm not sure how explain it. It made me uncomfortable. They're both broken people. They've been ridden hard emotionally and put away wet. But they have an onscreen connection that reminded me of Rourke and Dunaway in Barfly (1987) - though not quite as boozeaholly destrucovision. It's like the sum of broken parts equal a whole.
The film ends on an up-note but Tom Wait's cover of "Sea of Love" during the closing credits really struck home my previous point (I was stunned to find a Tom Waits song I hadn't heard before from this era and was equally surprised that no one had told me he had done this version). Sea of Love isn't as salacious or sensational as its peers but comes across less as a noir than a character study. It certainly was a far superior character study than Drive. Sea of Love is a movie you have to be in the mood for and I'm not sure if it'll translate for a younger audience (I don't mean this is a negative way but I feel a lot more connection with the characters now than I did when I first saw it) used to a slicker/more modern style of film. That being said, it's definitely worth watching - if only for the Pacino/Goodman scenes.