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Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel – film review

January 16, 2013

BLUE STEEL

‘Mom, I’m going out with a big-time director!’

blue steel banner

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Written by Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red. Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ron Silver, Clancy Brown, Elizabeth Pena and Louise Fletcher. Released in 1990. Running time: 102 mins.

With my upcoming review of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty due any day soon – I have decided to revisit one of the filmmaker’s early pictures – the gritty urban thriller Blue Steel.

In 1989, after receiving a lack-lustre reception for his undersea epic The Abyss, director James Cameron accepted an invitation to visit the New York set of the movie Blue Steel – obstensibly to meet with Jamie Lee Curtis (an actress he greatly admired) to sound out her interest in working with him on potential future projects (the two later worked together on Cameron’s True Lies). Upon meeting director Kathryn Bigelow and watching her direct, Cameron was immediately taken by her beauty and talent. According to family friend Susan Gaede – Cameron’s mother related to her that Cameron was ‘positively giddy with excitement’ about dating Bigelow, telling her “Mom, I’m going out with a big-time director!” The two filmmakers were married shortly after the completion of Blue Steel in August of that year (Cameron’s third marriage and Bigelow’s first) and would go on to collaborate on the movie Strange Days – after divorcing amicably in August 1991. I mention this because Cameron receives a thank you (billed as ‘JC’) in Blue Steel’s end credits.

jamie lee curtis - blue steel

Blue Steel is the story of rookie cop Meg Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis) – a determined young Police Academy graduate – who, on her first night on the beat – shoots dead an armed robber in a New York City convenience store during a bungled robbery. Unseen by Meg, the perp’s 44 Magnum revolver is taken from the crime scene by an eyewitness to the shooting – a Wall Street commodities trader named Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver). Pending an investigation, Meg is suspended from duty and finds herself drawn into a whirlwind romance with Eugene – who we soon learn is a latent psychopath with a penchant for shooting people and leaving shell casings with Meg’s name etched into them at crime scenes. Meg is partnered with Nick Mann (Clancy Brown) in order to apprehend the killer and the body count continues. Meanwhile, Eugene reveals to Meg that he is the one responsible and she attempts to arrest him – only to see him walk free due to lack of evidence and the fact that she has been romantically involved with him. Eugene begins targetting Meg’s family and friends, while goading her into action. Finally Meg has had enough and takes matters into   her own hands.

Bigelow absolutely hit her stride with Blue Steel – particularly with her pacing and staging of action scenes. It is here she begins to demonstrate her ability to immerse an audience within the action. Most notably during the final showdown between Silver and Curtis. This is something she continues to explore in subsequent films – the most notable examples being: the foot chase from Point Break, the opening POV from Strange Days, the submarine interiors in K19: The Widowmaker and finally attaining perfection with the bomb defusing scenes in The Hurt Locker. She achieves this sense of immersion primarily through her use of sound editing and placement of the camera – quite often employing mobile shots in amongst the action to visceral effect. Her use of multiple cameras to cover action in real-time with The Hurt Locker (a technique she further explores in Zero Dark Thirty) also gives her action a palpable sense of immediacy and realism sorely lacking in many recent movies of the genre.

bigelow - blue steel

Blue Steel marks the third time Bigelow and co-screenwriter Eric Red had worked together – having co-written Undertow (directed by Red in 1996) and Bigelow’s first solo directing gig – the existential vampire western Near Dark in ‘87. Prior to this, Red had written the Rutger Hauer-starring The Hitcher, which Blue Steel closely resembles in many respects – with its Hitchcockian concieit of an innocent person framed and taunted by an antagonist while the authorities don’t believe them (much like The 39 Steps and The Wrong Man). As Red explained in a recent interview “It’s always a great thing when you have somebody who’s innocent, and who is terrorized or put into a position by someone that’s manipulating him. Blue Steel is actually, really The Hitcher with a chick. Almost exactly.” And herein lies the only real flaw with Blue Steel – as (much like The Hitcher) some coincidences employed to give the antagonist the upper hand could (upon reflection) be seen as mere plot contrivances. Luckily there are enough shocks and surprises along the way to preoccupy the viewer from thinking about the implausibilities. And as these concerns really only appear in retrospect anyway – they’re not nearly enough to affect one’s enjoyment of the film as it unfolds.

Bigelow has often mentioned how she enjoys delving into the world of men’s machismo, masculinity and malecentric enclaves (whether they be bikie gangs, bank-robbing surfers, submariners or bomb disposal crews). So it is interesting to note that Blue Steel is the first of only three features she has directed which centers on a female protagonist – the other two being The Weight Of Water (2000) with Catherine McCormack and the more recent Zero Dark Thirty with Jessica Chastain.

I’ve never really felt an appreciation for Jamie Lee Curtis as a dramatic actor. I mean as a nineteen-year-old she perfectly suited the part of Laurie Strode in Carpenter’s Halloween and showed nice comedic ability in Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda – but I’ve never really seen her expressing her range in a meaty dramatic   role until this one.

ron silver - blue steel

Ron Silver’s performance in this film has absolutely got to be one of the greatest forgotten screen psychos of recent times (way up there with Anthony Perkins in Ken Russell’s Crimes Of Passion). We can truly believe this guy is completely off his fucking rocker – and I guess with him being a Wall Street trader – should it be any wonder?  The supporting cast are all top notch with Clancy Brown the standout playing against type as the nice guy detective who partners Curtis in the hunt for Silver. And the lovely Elizabeth Pena (here playing Meg’s BFF Tracy) is always        a welcome addition to any cast.

blue steel title

From the beautifully-shot opening title sequence using macro close-ups lovingly caressing a 44 Magnum – to the final showdown – the cinematography by Amir Mokri (Coyote Ugly, Lord Of War, Man Of Steel) adds a classy sheen to the gritty urban setting and film composer Brad Fiedel (Terminator, Terminator 2, True Lies) provides a score which nicely accentuates the rising tension.

With confident direction by perhaps the top action-suspense helmer of her generation, Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel is a stylish, tense and fast-paced thriller with a likeable performance from Jamie Lee Curtis, a truly scary villian in Ron Silver and is guaranteed to keep you inching forward in your seat.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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2 Comments
  1. Dave permalink

    Hey, I really liked your movie review of Blue Steel. It comes on DirectTV sometimes, and I first saw it there. I am training to be a cop right now, and this movie was right up my alley. Well, for one, I have a huge crush on Jamie Lee Curtis, even though she’s my mom’s age now, but in Blue Steel…wow.
    Yeah, cool review. It was honest. And I never knew a woman could make a man’s movie, until Kathryn Bigelow came along. I guess I’m sucker for tough women. I like a little competition.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks Dave! It’s a terrific little thriller which deserves much more attention. And Bigelow can do no wrong in my eyes – I’ve pretty much seen everything she’s produced. Be sure to check out my reviews of K19: The Widow Maker and Zero Dark Thirty. And you’re right – there is definitely something disturbingly hot about JLC in a police uniform. Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

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