`Sea of Love': a Director's View
HAROLD BECKER makes intense movies. You'll know his style if you remember ``The Onion Field,'' with James Woods as an obsessive criminal, or ``Taps,'' a military-school drama with George C. Scott. ``Sea of Love'' continues Mr. Becker's intensity marathon. Al Pacino stars as an aging policeman who's tracking down an unusual quarry: a murderer who chooses each victim by reading the personal ads in a ``singles'' magazine. John Goodman (of TV's ``Roseanne'' fame) plays his sidekick, and Ellen Barkin plays a woman Pacino's character would like to fall hopelessly in love with - except that she might be the killer he's after.Skip to next paragraph
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The movie has its share of violence and sex - it carries an R rating - but serious performances and a cautionary message (which might lead some ``singles'' to think twice about those magazine ads) raise it a step above Hollywood's usual action fare.
Also worth noting is the energy that Becker's directing style gives the film.
Becker got involved with the ``Sea of Love'' production after screenwriter Richard Price completed the script. In an interview at Universal Pictures here, Becker acknowledged that ``the ultimate auteur,'' or prime creator of a film, ``would be somebody who writes and directs.'' But that doesn't mean he took a back seat to the writer, creatively speaking. ``In directing,'' he says, ``one rewrites.''
BECKER believes a good director plays a key role in shaping a movie. ``In the hands of half-a-dozen different directors,'' he says, ``I would have to assume [a script] would end up as half-a-dozen different films - especially a [project] of this sort, which could have gone many ways.''
What was his approach to the ``Sea of Love'' screenplay?
``I saw it very much in the tradition of film noir,'' says Becker, referring to the style of dark and brooding crime pictures with titles like ``White Heat'' and ``Gun Crazy'' that Hollywood poured out during the 1940s. ``I was brought up on film noir ... so I brought with me that attitude, that `read' on the material.
``I always saw that the power of the piece lay in the psychological obsession that makes a cop behave in a way he normally wouldn't,'' Becker continues. ``That's very much a film noir kind of concept. So I focused on what I believed was the most important single thing, which is character - and the development of character through an involved plot, which is also characteristic of film noir.''
To create the kind of tone he wanted - menacing and melancholy, yet compelling to an audience - the director aimed for a claustrophobic visual style.
``The basic, pervasive tone of the piece had to be closed in,'' Becker explains. ``It had to create its own world.''
That world had to be self-contained psychologically as well as visually. ``I'm not saying you do all this in the most conscious way,'' says Becker, ``but you're trying to create a world that has its own rules. It can no longer be the rules of the everyday world, because then you no longer have the power of an obsession.''