Forgotten Films Archive: The Raw, Unchecked Aggression of Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Blue Steel’ (1990)

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Sandwiched in between Kathryn Bigelow’s breakout vampire western Near Dark and her modern classic Point Break, lies Blue Steel, a crime thriller that is aggressive and violent and a modicum of the types of thrillers in this era. It is a film of many different surprising narrative turns, a story that shouldn’t work as well as it does, and a clear indicator of the sort of filmmaker Bigelow would soon become.

Blue Steel is the sort of movie an audience watches, and with every outlandish turn as their jaws drop even further, they find themselves swept up in the thrilling inertia and terrific performances, lost amid the chaos. Jamie Lee Curtis’s Megan Turner graduates from the police academy under the credits, only to be thrust into a grocery store armed robbery day one of her patrol, the sort of grocery store armed robbery that would only exist in the movies. She shoots and kills the perpetrator (a young Tom Sizemore), and his gun goes spinning across the tile floor of the grocery store, where it rests directly in front of Eugene Hunt, who is one crazy sonofabitch just waiting for the right moment to let his inner demons spill out.

This is that moment, as Eugene pockets the gun. The disappearing weapon causes more problems for Megan, who is immediately dressed down and stripped of her badge and gun. Of course. Meanwhile, Eugene begins to stalk Megan, and eventually the two meet, date, sleep together, and almost immediately Eugene reveals himself to be a completely insane human being.

The late Ron Silver plays Eugene Hunt as a mix of yuppie Wall Street douchebag and unhinged psychotic murderer. It’s a weird juxtaposition outside of the satirical realm of something like American Psycho, but Silver’s dedication to the role and his curt, unnerving cadence, the way his voice can slink through a conversation like a snake, gets right under your skin. Beyond his words, Eugene’s increasingly fracturing mental state throughout the film is a sight to behold. It’s almost avant garde the way Silver approaches the physicality of this role, whether it’s trying to scream away the demons in a gym or rubbing blood all over his naked body… Silver is here to do some crazy things, and they all work.

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Bigelow’s screenplay – which she co-wrote with Eric Red – lays all the cards out on the table early on, at least as far as the mystery of the plot is concerned. It’s the same sort of reveal she has in Point Break, when we realize pretty much from the get go that Swayze’s band are the criminals. Megan finds out in the second act that Eugene has been murdering people with the missing gun, but she cannot do anything to stop him even though she’s back working with detectives. Because this is a movie.

Blue Steel is not about Megan’s shocking realization, it’s a cat-and-mouse thriller about a mouse eluding a cat in a wide open space. Kathryn Bigelow knows where to find interesting and unique tension, even in films that seem more predictable than they turn out to be. The third act finally loses its grip on the insanity, and the finale reaches its hand out and grabs ahold of near parody. But that’s not enough to dismiss Bigelow’s first action feature. It is one of the rare instances where Bigelow’s protagonist is female, and Jamie Lee Curtis is right at home fending off a madman who seemingly can’t be stopped.

Kathryn Bigelow’s latest, Detroit, opens this Friday.


The Forgotten Films Archive:

Shoot to Kill (1988)

Judgment Night (1993)

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Dead Calm (1989)

One False Move (1992)

Brooklyn’s Finest (2010)