American Gigolo (1980)

American Gigolo (1980)Synopsis:

Julian (Richard Gere, An Officer and A Gentleman) is a hustle who makes a living as a “companion” (aka male prostitute) to wealthy older women. He makes a point of never getting emotionally involved with his clientele, but when Julian meets a sad 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:

One of the most talked about American films of the 1980s now looks pretty tame. American Gigolo, written and directed by Paul Schrader (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters and Affliction), no longer has the power to raise eyebrows, but it’s a rock-solid character study, and a fascinating neo-noir.

I was about ten years old when American Gigolo came out. I was very young and my parents didn’t allow me to watch it, but I remember the controversy surrounding the film. It was supposed to be an adult film in every sense. When I finally saw it, I was a bit disappointed; it’s not as “risqué” as it sounds (there is hardly any nudity in the film).

Thirty-four years later, I plunged into it for another dip, this time from the perspective of an adult — I was astonished at how much better the film was than I remembered. It’s stylish (beautifully shot by John Bailey, The Big Chill) and well-thought-out, with Gere perfectly casted in the title role (he was casted only after John Travolta and Christopher Reeve turned it down).

It’s essentially a morality play wrapped in sex and mystery. I liked the way director & writer Schrader downplays the most sordid aspects of the narrative in order to make room for character development. Schrader also does a good job turning classic noir upside down. Most scenes take place during the daylight hours, and sets are rich in pastel colors (production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti’s work gives you a chance of seeing ’80s style decor in all its crazy geometric glory), but its structure and themes make it a legitimate existential noir.

I loved Giorgio Moroder’s so-1980s music score too. It’s sensuous and ominous in equal doses. The fine supporting cast includes Hector Elizondo (Pretty Woman), and Bill Duke (Menace II Society).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

American Gigolo is an underrated neo-noir, especially interesting to fans of Schrader’s work. It deserves a place on your DVD shelf next to Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat and Harold Becker’s Sea of Love. Color, 117 minutes, Rated R.

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