Pacific Heights (1990)

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John Schlesinger directs Melanie Griffith, Matthew Modine and Michael Keaton in this thriller where a couple rent out the flat below their new home to a very disturbed grifter.

There ain’t no better way to enjoy a Saturday night than a bit of yuppies in peril gloss. Pacific Heights has problems but its strength win through. Keaton is superb as the dangerous enigma Carter Hayes. Shifty, charming, intense… this is him shifting his weight after a year stuck in a rubber cowl. And Schlesinger is too good a director for this job. The lighting, framing and camera movement is inventive. He lurks and ducks and shifts focus like its the late sixties. When a dream sequence finally occurs it visually is no massive tonal change from the everyday storytelling of this world. What stops Pacific Heights from being truly great though is the ostensible leads. Melanie Griffiths lacks agency until the final twenty minutes. When she finally gets stuck in and turns the tables you realise the film should have gotten to this pleasure point far, far earlier. While Modine weirdly tries to out crazy Keaton once his buttons are pushed, convincing neither as an  everyman nor as a gullible mark. Part of the joy of this sub genre is watching the entitled go getter be put through the wringer… the wringer in the form of Keaton is satisfyingly punishing and yet you still feel Modine’s dickhead isn’t punished quite enough by end credits. Still nasty mysteries squat within the slick little shocker.

7

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