A quite astonishingly good stab at directing by famous writer Norman Mailer, which has to stand as the best film ever directed by a celebrated author, it also looks from this distance like one of the best mainstream American films of that much maligned decade-The 1980s. The film reeks of this period-cocaine house parties are littered with laquered blondes, inept dancers in denim and horny, corrupt cops. Eerily set in a stunningly weathered Provincetown (The jumping off point for the Mayflower Pilgrims before they settled for Plymouth-according to Mailer), O'Neal, a forty-something lush who wakes up one morning with a couple of recent corpses on his conscience who rightly or wrongly, has to decide, along with his just arrived father, whether he was responsible or not. It unfolds mostly in queasy and lurid flashbacks-There are at least two barking coke dealing blonde nymphomaniacs to contend with, a rich southern blue blood, all to excited about the seamy side of life, plus Isabella Rossellini, a stunning, calm centre at the heart of the protagonist's love life.
If you're a fan of David Lynch and Douglas Sirk's stories technicolour epics of small town hysteria then this will be well worth your time and effort. It is grimly witty and has perfect whiff of self-ridicule (unusually for Mailer-I think he was humbled by being surrounded by so many talented pros), as well as a huge slab of grand guignol and plenty of taut suspense. The performances are universally and miraculously pitched just this side of camp. The usually grey-around-the gills O Neal is surprisingly watchable-pitched somewhere between Jeff Bridges' Dude and his own samourai like performance in Walter Hill's film Driver. Laurence Tierney is a wonderfully immovable slab of granite, creating a solid centre to a film giddy with outrageous turns.