Julian Kaye (Richard Gere, Days of Heaven) is a young man who makes a living as a “companion” to wealthy older women. Julian makes a point of never getting emotionally involved with his clientele, but when he meets an unhappy politician’s wife (Lauren Hutton, Once Bitten), he begins developing feelings for her. Meanwhile, Julian becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“How much would you have charged me?”
One of the most talked about American films of the 1980s now looks pretty tame. Written and directed by Paul Schrader (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters and Auto Focus), American Gigolo no longer has the power to raise eyebrows, but it remains a fascinating character study and a genuinely suspenseful neo-noir.
I was in Elementary School when American Gigolo came out and my parents, of course, didn’t allow me to watch it, but I still remember the controversy surrounding the film. It was supposed to be an adult film in every sense. Years later, when I finally saw the movie, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. I’m not sure what I expected, but it’s not as “risqué” as it sounds (by the way, there is hardly any nudity in the film).
A few decades later, I plunged into it for another dip, this time from the perspective of a middle-aged man and I was astonished at how much better the film was than I remembered. It’s stylish (the movie was beautifully shot by John Bailey, The Accidental Tourist) and well-thought-out, with the underrated Richard Gere perfectly casted in the title role — Gere got the role only after John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever) and Christopher Reeve (Superman: The Movie) turned it down.
American Gigolo is essentially a morality play — the film seems to warn audiences about the dangers of leading a hedonistic lifestyle. Moreover, I liked the way controversial filmmaker Schrader downplays the most sordid aspects of the narrative in order to make room for character development. Most interesting is how Schrader updates classic noir tropes — in that sense, American Gigolo is a revisionist crime film.
While most scenes take place during daylight hours, and the sets are rich in pastel colors — production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti’s work gives you a chance to see ’80s style décor in all its crazy geometric glory — the film’s structure and themes make it a legitimate (existential) noir. In addition, I loved Giorgio Moroder’s (Midnight Express) superb music score — it’s sensuous and ominous in equal doses.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
American Gigolo is an underrated neo-noir, especially interesting to fans of Paul Schrader’s work. Richard Gere’s fantastic performance is another reason to give the movie a chance. In any event, American Gigolo deserves a place on your DVD shelf next to modern neo-noir classics like Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat (1981) and Harold Becker’s Sea of Love (1989). The fine supporting cast includes Hector Elizondo (The Princess Dairies) and Bill Duke (Menace II Society). Color, 117 minutes, Rated R.