Pros: Involving and well-crafted.
Cons: Ramshackle script.
The serial-killer thriller Eyes of Laura Mars is scary while not exactly nerve-jangling, smoothly put together yet plagued by more than a couple logic loopholes, well-acted yet populated by quality thespians more or less too good for their limitedly-conceived roles. In case you haven’t surmised by now, the film is pretty much even in the pros and cons departments, yet it’s helplessly involving enough on an undemanding level to warrant a semi-recommendation. Co-written by John Carpenter and persuasively directed by Irvin Kershner, this tantalizing tale involves controversial New York fashion photographer Faye Dunaway who’s having visions of vicious murders of her assistants from the hazy point-of-view of the killer (they're all stabbed in the eyes); she goes to the police professing to have witnessed the crimes yet is mostly blown off due to her insistence that she wasn’t exactly there at the time. Only lieutenant Tommy Lee Jones seems to believe her, and soon the two of them are caught up in a torrid affair of neediness. There are some suspects: Dunaway’s ex-con chauffer Brad Dourif, tempermental ex-husband/gold-digger Raul Julia, frenetic agent Rene Auberjonois, and maybe even Jones. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to spot the red herrings in the bunch (the more they‘re accentuated, the more we know it can’t be them) which puts us two or three steps ahead of Dunaway, who’s supposed to exude intelligence yet is rendered as being fairly obtuse. And the screenplay sets up a social-commentary angle that doesn’t quite come off: Dunaway’s violence-implied photos of women is personified by an actual flesh-and-blood killer but is never adequately interpreted into anything but only in the most broadest of terms.
Just about everything seems half-baked, as if Carpenter had a good idea for a thriller but not the vital conviction for one -- the film is littered with plenty of spare parts in search of a unifying, organic whole. When you get right down to it, the material really isn't much better than that of Lucio Fulci's ultra-trashy The New York Ripper's. Still, the journey towards the conclusion is assured directorial-wise. Kershner, veteran of many talking-heads dramas with small-scaled setups, uses the camera subjectively with canniness, setting up a claustrophobically-enticing narrative that propels us along with a tautness and confidence that keeps us in our place -- we share Dunaway’s heightened apprehension of not quite knowing what to make of her newfound “power” (which, to the film’s credit, isn’t explained; which gives it a spooky kind of vitality). Dialogue is generally good, location shooting throughout some non-cliché New York areas gritty, and a you-are-there sense of primal terror admirably elicited and sustained. All in all, I can’t rightfully aver that Eyes of Laura Mars is any kind of classic, and gosh knows how better it might’ve been had Carpenter (whose landmark Halloween, which also heavily relied on the POV of the killer, was released the same year) been handed the director’s reins, but it’s actually about something other than existing solely as a showcase for boobies and gore. It may all be kooky-hoopla in the end, but getting there is better than it has any right to be; and with the game Dunaway (who screams great except for a time or two when there‘s some abrasive whine) and Jones (exuding super-cool with confident understatement) working up some good chemistry, the human factor manages to stay afloat amid all those punctured olfactory organs.
An entry in the latest Lean 'N Mean writeoff: