I spend a lot of time binge-watching murder mysteries and TV series about crime. Not only am I a fan of all the Law & Order shoes, but also of “Criminal Minds.” I get to hear a lot about murderers and their motivations, but most of us won’t be personally touched by these crimes. It’s far more likely that we will live in some city during our lifetime where a criminal is on the loose and being sought by law enforcement.
When a mass murder lurks, it’s not only the victims or the families of his or her victims who are impacted. It’s the whole community. Instead of examining the psychology of the serial killer Son of Sam (David Berkowitz), Spike Lee with co-writers Victor Colicchio and Michael Imperioli, look into the psychological breakdown of a neighborhood and a group of friends as suspicion turns them against each other.
To set up the situation, Lee shows a broadcast news segment and we hear a dog barking. A man, whose face we don’t see, is holding his ears and while clad only in white boxers made semi-transparent by sweat, is plunging his face into the mattress on the floor. The man is not a minor character in the lives of the main characters.
Like the inescapable heat of the summer, this man is part of the environment, the atmosphere. The soundtrack takes us back to “Boogie Nights” and a time when disco was still cool and not retro and there really was “something in the air that night.” Fear.
Taking place during the summer of 1977, the serial killer Son of Sam has already shot several women in parked cars. Vinny (John Leguizamo) is a hairdresser who seduces women. Married to a waitress named Dionna, he’s fooling around with other women including Dionna’s cousin. While returning from a date, Vinny and Dionna pass a crime scene and Vinny realizes that he was very close to the victims earlier. He can’t tell Dionna because he was at that spot having sex with Dionna’s cousin at the time.
One of Vinny’s old friends, Ritchie, has become a punk rocker and his dress and spikey hair. Vinny’s half-sister, Ruby, is the only one sympathetic to Ritchie’s punk rock ways and questionable lifestyle.
As the Son of Sam killings continue, suspicion falls upon Ritchie. Ruby has joined Ritchie’s band and although Ruby and Ritchie invite Vinny and Dionne to see them perform at CBGB, Vinny and Dionne decide the don’t like the crowd, and first attempt to get into the famed Studio 54, and on failing there, the couple goes to the newly opened swingers club Plato’s Retreat (1977-1985) where they engage in an orgy.
Driving home, Vinny angrily confronts Dionna over her participation, but Dionna fires back. She knows about his infidelities and she leaves him to stay at her parents’ house.
Lee takes us to the experience of the common man, the person who wasn’t singled out for murder but was possibly suspected of the same. In doing so, we get a look at mass hysteria, not in a small town, but in a segment of a large city. We see how easily suspicion leads to violence and wrongful vigilante action.
Even if you’ve seen the movie before, what makes this DVD worth having is the commentary, the conversations and memories between Leguizamo and Spike Lee. In light of his words about Ferguson and the explosive situation there, Lee is not only an influential director, but a individual who has something to say in his art that can bring current events into focus.