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December 17, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #50 - Blue Steel

Between Ron Silver's beard and Clancy "Kurrgan" Brown's perm, there's no reason you shouldn't love Blue Steel.  A creepily primal psychological thriller that stars Jamie Lee Curtis (the only scream queen that really matters, I say), Blue Steel is directed by recent Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow.  Bigelow also teamed up on the script with her Near Dark co-writer Eric Red (who was also responsible for The Hitcher), and the same quiet poetry that filled that rural horror runs through this urban police story.

Curtis takes the lead as Megan Turner, a rookie cop who tells her first partner that she became a cop because she wants to shoot people.  Moments later, she finds herself staring down a gun-toting robber (Tom Sizemore). As she shakes in fear, the viewer can tell that she's more vulnerable than she lets on.  But, the robber refuses to yield to a woman in blue...and is promptly shot repeatedly for his efforts.  Also present at the robbery is seemingly normal stock trader Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver, accompanied by his glorious beard), who spies the robber's fallen gun and promptly snatches it up, fleeing the scene unnoticed.
Since they don't find a gun at the scene, Megan's superiors (led by Stir of Echoes' Kevin Dunn and Highlander's Brown) assume that she's simply trigger happy - proving the point that you don't joke about shooting people when you're carrying something that can be used to shoot people.  Meanwhile, Hunt freakishly begins carving the bullets from his newly found 44 Magnum.  He soon wanders into the streets, ignores "DON'T WALK" signs at crosswalks, and then shoots the first person he comes across at close range - using a bullet that has Megan Turner's name etched into its casing.

Oh, and then he seeks out Megan and woos her with his beard and starts a creepy relationship with her.
That's the bizarre set up for Bigelow's film, which then spends most of its duration focusing on Eugene's total-freakin' gun-happy craziness and Megan's self-confident desire to be the strong woman. Megan's interactions with her parents reveal that her father has a general disinterest in women holding power, and we also learn that he beats Megan's mother (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest's Louise Fletcher).  So it's easy to see where Megan's desire to be strong comes from, yet only through Curtis' perfect posture and clenched jaw do we see how hard she's trying to do the right thing.  That's mostly because all of the men in the film seem to be doing their best to discredit her, with Brown's detective being the only exception.  I assume he's in touch with his feminine side; he does have a gigantic perm.
At the other end of the film is Silver's Eugene, who is Looney Tunes yet looks like the kind of powerful male figure that society doesn't doubt.  We can certainly see that he has violent fits and hears voices and occasionally wipes the blood of a prostitute all over his naked body, but he looks like a normal person to everyone inside the film.  Plus he has a serpent of a lawyer, played by the always great Richard Jenkins, who backs him up.  So he pretty much has a kind of diplomatic immunity that is reserved for athletes and politicians these days, despite his crimes and the growing evidence pointing to him.  At the same time it becomes evident that he doesn't really have a grasp on reality.  As Megan holds a gun to his head he simply tells her "You look beautiful...I like your bone structure."  Can you say "creeper"?
The film really stands our attention on end in the mid-film scene where Eugene reveals his true self to Curtis' Megan.  As he strips away his shell of normalcy before her eyes, he informs her that "you would do what I do if you knew yourself better".  To me, this statement resonates as the film's biggest question when we consider what we know about Megan.  She makes comments about wanting to shoot people and wanting to slam people's heads against walls - and we assume they're jokes.  But when she ends up doing those things as her pursuit of the devilish Mr. Silver prolongs, the film makes us strongly consider whether or not we too have undervalued Megan based on her gender.  Maybe she really has her own violent tendencies, her own mental concerns...and we just don't see them under her female exterior and her blue police outfit.
When placed against a quiet and surreal New York City backdrop, the cat and mouse game between Curtis and Silver becomes a psychological treat.  Bigelow offers the dilemma in slow-burn style - the film feels a lot longer than its 101 minute length - yet I find it very easy to get lost inside the creepy drama that it offers.  It allows me to find the little things, like a wide-eyed, rambling Silver lapping up a lone tear that runs down his face while Curtis points a gun at him, that make me think deeply about what at times seems to be a simple police drama.

And, there's Ron Silver's beard.  You can't beat that.


Fred [The Wolf] said...

Great review for an underrated film. I actually watched this in theaters [my mom took me because she loves films like this]. I didn't appreciate it until I was a teenager though. Jamie Lee Curtis proved here that she was more than a horror and comedic actress. I really need to rewatch this one for a review. It's been too long.

Anonymous said...

Great review - this was the first movie I went to by myself - what an eyeful! Ron Silver makes such a glorious madman, a werewolf without fur, and Jamie Lee Curtis is his full moon!