Sea of Love


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Al Pacino plays a New York cop (there's a surprise) who's trying to track down a killer. There are three male victims, and they all placed similar ads in the personals. In fact, only three men placed rhyming ads, and all three ended up dead, while all the men who placed non-rhyming ads are unharmed. Pacino also has matching fingerprints at two of the crime scenes, but the prints don't match anyone in the database, so the police are at an impasse. Pacino and his partner (John Goodman) come up with a proactive plan: they write their own rhyming ad and arrange to meet every woman who answers it. They meet for a drink in a a public restaurant,  get the woman's fingerprints on a water or wine glass, and move on to the next woman, in assembly line fashion.

Slick plan.

Only one problem. Pacino is kind of a lonely guy himself, and has a drinking problem. When he runs into one of the suspects on the street, he is attracted to her and his judgment is impaired by his loneliness and a head full of booze. The fact that it's Ellen Barkin in skin-tight dresses seals the deal for him, so they end up getting it on ... and on ... and on. The dramatic conflict is that she is the one woman who never touched a glass, so Pacino never got her prints and is unable to eliminate her as a suspect. A concatenation of circumstances, fueled by alcohol-impaired judgment,  leads Pacino to become more and more convinced that she might be the killer, even as he becomes more and more involved with her and hopes she isn't. He then hits the bottle even harder than before, thus further clouding his judgment and accentuating his paranoia.

The film's strength lies in the cat-and-mouse game which the director plays with the audience. There's a gun in her purse. Pacino sees it and knows she must be the killer. He overpowers her. No, wait. It's a starter pistol. Now Pacino has to explain to her why he just went ballistic, and he has to do so as a guy in love with her, not as a cop.  He can't tell he the whole truth because she really might be the killer. Or she may just be a nice woman whose life is being screwed up by a guy telling her a bunch of half-truths. The couple did get through the gun incident, but additional evidence points to her as the film progresses, and the cycle continues. Lather; rinse; repeat. Throughout the cycle, Pacino never knows if and when she's going to kill him instead of kissing him, and the audience never knows either. Finally it gets to the point where the evidence is overwhelming. Every clue points to her. There are too many incriminating circumstances to be just coincidences. She must be the killer  ...

You'll have to watch the film to see how that gets resolved. I won't tell you the ending, but I will say that the screenplay was reasonably deft. The explanation does make perfect sense, even though I never thought of it as the film developed.

Sea of Love is not a major movie, but is a solid little thriller with deep character development. Pacino's cop is more than just a cardboard cut-out. He's flawed; he's an ass; he's lonely; he's a drunk. The key point is that he's somebody who is known to us. We can probably answer questions about elements of his life than have not been specifically covered on screen. That kind of character development allows the audience to think of him as a member of the family, maybe a cousin who's a pretty decent guy but needs to slack off the booze. We get deeper into the thrills because we're into him.


Additional notes:

Ellen Barkin? That girl may not be so beautiful and her face may be crooked, but damn is she sexy!

Samuel L. Jackson? Don't watch the film hoping to see him. He has a couple of lines in an early scene unrelated to the central plot. If you're not looking for him you may miss him unless you pick up his distinctive voice.

The DVD has some deleted scenes. Two of them are short and unimportant. The remainder comprise a complete sub-plot which was wisely dropped. It concerned a black kid who was fingered as an alternate suspect in the killings. It was nothing more than a red herring, and not a very logical one at that, so the director made the right move in cutting it.


* widescreen anamorphic

* full-length commentary

* brief deleted scenes

* "making of" featurette





It was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography.

3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
82 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)


6.6 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. It was a hit. It opened in the #1 slot and stayed in the top two for the following three weeks, even though it was never in as many as 1300 theaters. It finished with $58 million, and another $52 million overseas, which was an impressive total for an R-rated film in 1989.



  • The three male victims show their buns: Brian Paul, Mark Phelan, and Michael O'Neill
  • Ellen Barkin shows her breasts and buns


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is a solid thriller in general, and some of the Barkin/Pacino scenes are truly memorable. My personal inclination is to call it a solid C, but given the wide acceptance by critics (82%) and the solid box office performance (four weeks at #1 or #2), it absolutely meets our definition of a low B-.