Richard Gere's supremely smug and narcissistic performance as an LA hustler propelled him to stardom in Paul Schrader's AMERICAN GIGOLO, a stylishly sleazy look at moral rot and redemption. The story becomes increasingly implausible as its thriller elements kick in, but the moving last
shot (which owes much to Robert Bresson's PICKPOCKET), achieves a sense of spiritual transcendence and grace rare in American movies.
Handsome Julian Kay (Richard Gere) is a high-class male prostitute working for Scandinavian procurer Anne (Nina Van Pallandt); most of his clientele is made up of wealthy, older women. As a favor to a pimp named Leon (Bill Duke), Julian agrees to do a Palm Springs trick with a couple, the
Rheimans. But they're heavily into S&M, and Julian leaves before the session is over, later meeting a woman named Michelle (Lauren Hutton) with whom he begins an intense relationship. Julian's carefully ordered life suddenly takes a nose-dive: Mrs. Rheiman is found dead and he's suspected of her
murder; Leon refuses to help manufacture an alibi and Anne won't give Julian the time of day because he betrayed her by working for Leon; and Michelle turns out to be married to a local politician.
Abandoning the gritty realism of his first two films, BLUE COLLAR and HARDCORE, screenwriter-turned-director Schrader here adopted a sleek and stylish approach. The result was one of his most satisfying attempts to mesh a European sensibility and his own obsession with moral drift and emotional
alienation. The film can be seen as the flip side of TAXI DRIVER (which Schrader wrote); it's also a virtual compendium of '80s music, fashion, and pop-culture symbols, as well as a vivid portrait of the era's chic Hollywood decadence, starting with Giorgio Moroder's throbbing synthesizer score
and Blondie singing "Call Me" as Julian cruises LA in his Mercedes convertible.
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