Monday Movie: Blue Steel, by David Bax
Kathryn Bigelow’s most recent features, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, may have earned her more prestige and “serious” consideration but we longtime fans know that her strengths don’t lie solely in hardnosed, topical war dramas. She’s just as capable – and seemingly just as much at home – making lowbrow genre pictures that are just as taut as her awards-reaping fare but with a healthy dose of psychosexual pulp. Rippling muscles adorn nearly every frame of Point Break; Strange Days is confrontational in its animalistic kinkiness. And, almost forgotten down there near the bottom of her filmography is 1989’s Blue Steel, a movie so frankly fetishistic that it might embarrass more prudish viewers. Watching Jamie Lee Curtis, as Officer Megan Turner, get into uniform is like watching someone strap on bondage gear.
All that fetishism serves a deeper thematic purpose in Blue Steel, where an external, physical object is imbued with dark sexual significance. When Turner shoots and kills an armed robber (Tom Sizemore), the man’s gun is surreptitiously stolen by a sleazy, wealthy Wall Street trader named Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver). The idea of a gun as a metaphorical penis is nothing new but Bigelow and co-screenwriter Eric Red are not aiming for subtlety. The gun sets off something murderous in Hunt and the film becomes an often terrifying examination of unchecked male power.
It’s a wonder, actually, that Blue Steel hasn’t enjoyed more of a resurgence. With so much dialogue in the zeitgeist about both guns and rape culture, a female-directed film on both topics would seem to fall into the sweet spot of the Venn diagram. Hopefully Blue Steel’s reputation will change if Bigelow ever returns to making movies that are as trashy as they are important.