Directed and Written by Paul Schrader
Life grows ever more complicated. Now it seems that the old song notwithstanding, it is impossible to be just a gigolo. This curious little movie actually persuades one to believe that male hustlers have feelings, problems and pain just like everyone else. That is no small feat, considering the attitudes one tends to bring to an examination of a gigolo's life and hard times.
Julian (Richard Gere) makes his living in the nicer precincts of Los Angeles by providing sexual services to well-off middle-aged ladies. He is pretty, smartly dressed and inarticulate when any serious subject comes up; yet one can understand what a neglected wife might see in him. His power with women derives not from being aggressively male but from being ingratiatingly sweet. He is good at his work and is sufficiently self-aware to understand that his exceptional talent is ultimately self-defeating: he can give pleasure but never receive it. Indeed, the film's major psychological twist occurs when Julian discovers his capacity to believe in and accept the love of a decent woman (Lauren Hutton). The passages between Gere and Huttonthanks largely to the latter's open and vulnerable playingare the most affecting in the film. She actually convinces one of her passion, despite its unlikely sociological grounding. There are moments when American Gigolo looks as if it might develop into a sober Shampoo.
The film's emphasis, however, is too often elsewhere. Much of the plot revolves around an attempt to frame Julian for a particularly unpleasant sadomasochistic murder. Hector Elizondo is fine as the detective investigating the case, and Julian's attempts to clear himself allow Writer-Director Paul Schrader to penetrate the seamier side of a gigolo's world. Hollywood Boulevard garishness is colorfully contrasted with Rodeo Drive posh. But as in last year's Hardcore, Schrader seems unable to get very far beneath the ugly surface of the demimonde. It is clear he is horrified (or at least titillated) by his movie's milieu, but he doesn't make it palpable. In any event, Schrader's development of the frame-up story is mechanically melodramatic, and Gere, essentially a boring actor, doesn't help much either. He just cannot carry a picture, even when his passivity and gentleness well serve some aspects of his character, as they do here.
But what finally betrays the film is a redemptive ending. Having spent almost two hours getting Julian into a tight corner, Schrader cannot bear to leave him there. The picture ends with a cockamamie implication that love will conquer all even the false, but seemingly airtight, murder rap. Such a conclusion betrays everything the film has so carefully built up the easily victimized Gere character, the hypocrisy of the chic world he has risen to, the viciousness of the underworld which spawned him and retains its vicious claim on him.
It is too bad, because there is much here that is morally acute. As in much of his other work (notably the scripts of Taxi Driver and Old Boyfriends), Schrader simply refuses to face the grim, climactic consequences of his essentially tragic vision. He manages to contract conjunctivitis just when he needs to be most clear-eyed. Richard Schickel