Sea of Love (film)

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This article is about the movie. For the song, see Sea of Love (song).
Sea of Love
Sea of love 1989.jpg
Original film poster
Directed by Harold Becker
Produced by Martin Bregman
Louis A. Stroller
Written by Richard Price
Music by Trevor Jones
Cinematography Ronnie Taylor
Edited by David Bretherton
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
September 15, 1989
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $19 million
Box office $110,879,513

Sea of Love is a 1989 thriller film directed by Harold Becker, written by Richard Price, and starring Al Pacino (his first movie after a four-year hiatus), Ellen Barkin, and John Goodman. The story concerns a New York City detective trying to catch a serial killer who finds victims through the singles column in a newspaper.[1]


New York City homicide detective Frank Keller is a burnt-out alcoholic. His wife left him and married one of his colleagues. He is depressed about reaching middle age and his 20th year on the police force.

Frank is assigned to investigate the murder of a man in Manhattan, shot dead while face down in his bed, naked, listening to an old 45rpm recording of "Sea of Love". Keller has three clues — a lipstick-smeared cigarette, a want-ad that the dead man placed in a newspaper, and fingerprints of the perpetrator.

A second man dies in the same manner in Queens. Detective Sherman Touhey (John Goodman) from the local precinct suggests that he and Frank collaborate. Both victims had placed rhyming ads in the lonely hearts column of the newspaper, seeking dates.

The detectives track down Raymond Brown, the only other man with a rhyming ad. He's a married man who admits placing the ad but swears on his children's eyes that he threw away all the letters and never saw anyone.

Frank gets an idea to place their own rhyming ad in the paper, meet women who respond in a restaurant and take the prints from their drinking glasses. A superior officer thinks Frank is looking for an excuse to go on dates at the department's expense and does not approve the idea. He changes his mind when Brown turns up dead in the same manner as the other two murder victims.

Frank has dinner with several women, while Sherman — posing as a waiter — puts their glasses into evidence bags. One woman, divorcee Helen Cruger, shows no interest in Frank and leaves before she takes a drink. Frank bumps into her again at a market, but this time she is more friendly. Helen manages a chic upscale shoe store. Frank does not reveal his true occupation.

Frank takes her to his place, against his better judgment and a warning from Sherman not to do so. They start getting passionate, but Frank panics after finding a gun in her purse and treats her roughly. It turns out to be a starting pistol.

Frank and Helen begin a romance. He has a chance to obtain Helen's fingerprints on a glass but decides to wipe the glass clean. Their relationship becomes strained when she discovers that he is a cop. One night when he is drunk, he nearly gives away the fact that Helen was involved in a sting. His feelings for her are real, but Frank discovers that Helen responded to each of the victims' ads. When he confronts her, Helen refuses to admit to anything, so he throws her out.

Helen's ex-husband Terry (Michael Rooker) forces his way into Frank′s apartment. At gunpoint, he makes Frank lie on his bed and show how he made love to Helen, just as Terry had done with his ex-wife's other three boyfriends before he killed them.

Frank is able to overpower Terry and tries to call the police. The killer makes a lunge at him and, in the ensuing struggle, Terry is accidentally thrown through the window and plunges to his death.

Frank and Helen reunite. She forgives him, and they resume their relationship.



Ellen Barkin later said she "did not enjoy making" the movie:

But Al Pacino, on the other hand, was my savior. And that was a wonderful thing. Just the fact that everything about Sea Of Love was wrong, except there I had, arguably, one of the great American actors as my fierce, fearsome protector, and that felt amazing to me and gave me a level of confidence that I certainly never would have had without him.[2]



The movie received positive reviews from critics. A review in Los Angeles Times called it "a slick, knowing genre film, through and through, a New York cop suspense thriller that we've seen countless times before," but stated "it can't quite keep us away from wondering how a smart woman like Helen, whose looks would stop traffic and whose work would bring her into constant contact with an array of sophisticated men, would ever resort to the personals--unless, of course, she really is a psychopath."[3] The Washington Post stated that if the film "were able to get it all, it would be a great movie. As it is, it's stirring and messy and hints at more than it is capable of delivering."[4] Roger Ebert thought "the ending of "Sea of Love" cheats by bringing in a character from left field at the last moment. Part of the fun in a movie like this is guessing the identity of the killer, and part of the problem with "Sea of Love" is that the audience is not fairly treated. Technically, I suppose, the plot can be justified. But I felt cheated. I had good feelings for the characters and their relationships, but I walked out feeling the plot played fast and loose with the rules of whodunits."[5]

Variety outright praised the film, calling it "a suspenseful film noir boasting a superlative performance by Al Pacino as a burned-out Gotham cop."[6] According to Rotten Tomatoes, 76% of the reviews were positive, based on 25 reviews.

A sequence in Sea of Love was selected in a scientific study as one of two sequences that were most able to produce surprise in viewers.[7] The other such sequence was from the 1978 American conspiracy-theory film Capricorn One.

Box office[edit]

The film did well domestically debuting at No. 1.[8] In its second week it had a 22% drop.[9] Sea of Love grossed $58.5 million domestically and $52.3 million overseas to a total of $110.9 million worldwide.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, Joe (September 15, 1989). "Sea of Love". Washington Post. Retrieved December 26, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Ellen Barkin on great directors and her favorite roles, from Diner to Buckaroo Banzai" by Sam Fragoso, Random Roles - AV Club Mar 14, 2015 accessed 30 March 2015
  3. ^ Thomas, Kevin (15 September 1989). "MOVIE REVIEWS: Pacino and Barkin Make a Big Splash in Sea of Love". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 December 2010. 
  4. ^ "Sea of Love". Washington Post. 15 September 1989. Retrieved 26 December 2010. 
  5. ^ "Sea of Love". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 26 December 2010. 
  6. ^ "Sea of Love". Variety. 31 December 1988. Retrieved 26 December 2010. 
  7. ^ Smithsonian Magazine, The Saddest Movie in the World, 21 July 2011
  8. ^ Cerone, Daniel (19 September 1989). "Pacino Buoys 'Sea of Love' at Box Office". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 December 2010. 
  9. ^ Cerone, Daniel (26 September 1989). "Black Rain, 'Sea of Love' Tops at Box Office: WEEKEND BOX OFFICE". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 

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