Sea of Love (1989)

Sea of Love (1989)

Taglines: In search of a killer, he found someone who’s either the love of his life… or the end of it.

New York City homicide detective Frank Keller is a burned-out alcoholic. His wife left him and married one of his colleagues, and he is depressed about reaching his 20th year on the police force. He is assigned to investigate the murder of a man in Manhattan, shot dead while face down in his bed, naked, listening to an old 45rpm recording of “Sea of Love.” Keller has three clues — a lipstick-smeared cigarette, a want-ad that the dead man placed in a newspaper, and fingerprints of the perpetrator.

A second man dies in the same manner in Queens. Detective Sherman Touhey from the local precinct suggests that he and Frank collaborate. Both victims had placed rhyming ads in the lonely hearts column of the newspaper, seeking dates. The detectives track down Raymond Brown, the only other man with a rhyming ad. He’s a married man who admits placing the ad but swears that he threw away all the letters and never saw anyone. Frank gets an idea to place a rhyming ad in the paper, meet women who respond in a restaurant and take the prints from their drinking glasses. Frank’s precinct chief is skeptical, but changes his mind when Brown turns up dead in the same manner as the other two murder victims.

Sea of Love is a 1989 American thriller film directed by Harold Becker, written by Richard Price, and starring Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin and John Goodman. The story concerns a New York City detective trying to catch a serial killer who finds victims through the singles column in a newspaper. Sea of Love was Al Pacino’s first movie after a four-year hiatus following the critical and commercial failure of Revolution.

Sea of Love (1989) - Ellen Barkin

Film Review for Sea of Love

After “Cruising” and “Dog Day Afternoon,” Al Pacino again goes fishing in the murky waters of sexual subcultures with “Sea of Love,” a murder-mystery buddy movie. This time the erotic twist is the personal ads: Pacino plays Frank Keller, a touchy cop trailing a killer who’s offed a chain of Manhattan men, all of whom have placed rhyming personals in the back of New York magazine.

A 20-year vet on the force, Keller has a short fuse — and his temper has been snipped even shorter by a recent separation from his wife, who now lives with his poker-faced former partner. When Keller gets assigned to the case, he teams up with a new-found big buddy (played by “Roseanne’s” John Goodman) and concocts a way to go looking for Ms. Goodbar: Place a rhyming ad, date any women who respond, get their fingerprints off the cocktail glasses — and bang, the killer’s bagged.

In this line of duty, Keller meets up with Helen (Ellen Barkin), a stranger in the night sheathed in lipstick-red leather. First she rejects him, then she devours him, and after some highly theatrical sex, Keller decides he doesn’t need to take her prints. But soon there’s reason to suspect her, and things get stickier and scarier.

Sea of Love (1989)

Written by novelist Richard Price, who adapted it from his book “Ladies Man,” the movie is suffused with singles-scene sadness, Police Gazette ambiance and tough-guy talk, and cinematographer Ronnie Taylor gives it a sweaty, bleary, bluishly unhealthy look, suggesting the current climate of sexual paranoia. Price’s dialogue bristles with antagonisms and callous cracks — one of the opening scenes sets up a hilariously imaginative police sting; Goodman refers to the first murder victim as “a face-down taxpayer pancaked on a bedframe”; and there’s a great scene in which a poets’ circle of cops tries to bash out an enticing poem.

Price and director Harold Becker build in enough jumps and scares and good red herrings to be satisfying — there are a few especially heartpounding moments in which Keller’s sense of helplessness in his own bedroom is palpable — but a few logical holes may appear when you talk about it afterwards. Still, “Sea of Love” is leagues deeper than the average buddy movie.

Sea of Love Movie Poster (1989)

Sea of Love (1989)

Directed by: Harold Becker
Starring: Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, John Goodman, Michael Rooker, William Hickey, Richard Jenkins, Christine Estabrook, Gene Canfield, Paul Calderon
Screenplay by: Richard Price
Production Design by: John Jay Moore
Cinematography by: Ronnie Taylor
Film Editing by: David Bretherton
Costume Design by: Betsy Cox
Set Decoration by: Gordon Sim
Music by: Trevor Jones
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: September 15, 1989