Today, director Kathryn Bigelow gets introduced as “Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow.” But back in 1989, she only had two features under her belt…one being the critically praised vampire film “Near Dark.” Her third film, “Blue Steel,” didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, but it is a thriller well worth another look.
The film introduces us to Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she graduates the police academy and becomes a New York City cop. On her first night on the job she ends up shooting and killing a gun-wielding crook (Tom Sizemore) attempting to rob a grocery store. Also in the store that night is a stockbroker named Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver). When Sizemore goes through the window with a couple of slugs in him, his gun lands right in front of Eugene. He grabs the gun, tucks it in his jacket, and leaves the scene before he can be questioned as a witness.
Eugene, who seems to already be somewhat unstable, starts to fixate on the gun, as well as the lovely young officer he saw at the store. Meanwhile, Megan is busted down to desk duty since the police investigators can not find a weapon at the grocery store and believe she may have fired on an unarmed man. One detective, however, Nick Mann (Clancy Brown) begins to believe her.
While things get worse for Megan, Eugene sets out to use his newly acquired weapon. One night, he randomly shoots and elderly man he encounters on the street. When the police investigate, they find bullet casings with Megan’s name etched into them. This is enough for Detective Mann to get Megan reinstated as a detective to aid in the investigation.
But even though there is a killer out there putting Megan’s name on bullets, there are some good things happening in her life. On a rainy afternoon, she ends up sharing a cab with a man who then offers to take her to dinner. This leads to more dates, which is a rare thing for Megan…despite her beauty, men are often scared away when she says she’s a cop. Things seem to be going great with this guy. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention…it’s Eugene! Megan has no idea he’s the killer she’s looking for, until the night they are about to consummate their relationship when he asks her to point her gun at him before they make love. He reveals that he is the killer, and she arrests him, but his lawyer (Richard Jenkins) has no trouble getting him out due to lack of evidence.
Now, Eugene continues to taunt Megan….fighting voices in his head and becoming more and more obsessed with her. He attacks her friend (Elizabeth Pena) and pays a visit to her parents (Louise Fletcher and Philip Bosco), but always manages to do so in a way that keeps him from being arrested. Unable to stop him within the law, Megan is forced to take matters into her own hands.
It is almost criminal that this movie is not better known. “Blue Steel” completely blew me away! It grabs you early on and refuses to let go. It’s incredibly tense and full of surprises. Bigelow does a great job of creating an unnerving atmosphere and uses her camera very creatively.
What really carries the film, though, are the performances of the two leads. Jamie Lee Curtis is very convincing as your average-everyday rookie cop. For crying out loud, she’s the offspring of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis…you can’t get less “average-everyday” than that, but she pulls it off. Still, through it all, there’s that sexiness you’d expect from the offspring of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, but it’s somewhat tucked away. This may be one of Jamie Lee’s best performances. But, overshadowing it a bit, is Ron Silver. A great actor who left us way too soon. Silver’s psychotic stockbroker is terrifying and unpredictable. As scary as any masked killer Miss Curtis faced in her days as a scream queen.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that this film was somewhat familiar territory for Jamie Lee Curtis. It takes some of the elements of the horror movies she was known for early in career and twists them into an effective police thriller. Bigelow handles it all quite skillfully leaving no doubt as to why she was to be a future Oscar winner.