Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain has us reflecting on other Florida crime movies.
Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan established himself in the late ’70s and early ’80s as a hotshot screenwriter with a unique gift for replicating the banter and spirit of Hollywood’s Golden Age. With the help of George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, and Steven Spielberg, Kasdan brought the derring-do spirit of ancient serials to contemporary Hollywood with his screenplay for 1981’s Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark. He also collaborated with Leigh Brackett—screenwriter of The Big Sleep, among other films—on the script for The Empire Strikes Back, another newfangled blockbuster built on the sturdy foundation of serials from long ago.
But the truest expression of Kasdan’s deep reverence for Hollywood’s past—and his gift for resurrecting it—lies in his 1981 directorial debut, Body Heat. The incendiary erotic thriller casts Kathleen Turner (who famously lost the Golden Globe for best newcomer that year to Pia Zadora’s slightly less revered turn in Butterfly) as a sly femme fatale who manipulates a horny and weak-willed lawyer (William Hurt) into helping her get rid of wealthy husband Richard Crenna. Kasdan creates a hothouse atmosphere of lush, ripe sensuality; the film stock itself seems to sweat under the strain of the Florida sun. But the real heat comes from Turner’s star-making performance, a scorching combination of raspy male aggression and feminine sensuality. The genius of old noirs lies in their suggestiveness and ability to convey volumes with just a little, but Body Heat maintains the old-school glamour and mystery of classic film noir while adding an element of graphic sexuality that’s unmistakably modern. Throw in scene-stealing supporting turns from Ted Danson and Mickey Rourke, and you have the landmark throwback that established the gold standard for erotically charged neo-noirs.
Availability: On DVD and Blu-ray either solo or bundled with L.A. Confidential and The Player; streaming on Amazon Prime and available for digital rental on iTunes and other outlets.