Swoon (1992)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Gay & Lesbian Films, Crime Drama, Courtroom Drama  |   Release Date - Sep 11, 1992 (USA)  |   Run Time - 92 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

The term "cold exercise in style" may as well have been invented for this harbinger of the New Queer Cinema of the early '90s. As far as arty exercises go, though, Tom Kalin's debut feature remains an eminently watchable one. Filmed in high-contrast black-and-white and set to an uneasy orchestral score, Swoon is based on the original "trial of the century" -- the one that also inspired Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and Richard Fleischer's Compulsion. Yet by foregrounding what was, to varying degrees, merely homosexual subtext in those earlier films, Swoon refashions the material into an au courant examination of gay identity. Unlike Compulsion, a courtroom drama, and Rope, a taut set piece, Kalin's film delves further into the inner lives of the neurotic Leopold (Craig Chester) and the manipulative Loeb (Daniel Schlachet). Though it details key points in the murder and subsequent investigation, Kalin's script spends more time examining the twisted domesticity and psychological give-and-take of the squabbling murderers. An extended coda follows Loeb through his long prison sentence, lending a sense of scope and reflection to the proceedings, while stylized voice-overs give the entire proceedings the feel of an internal monologue. The script's political overtones may seem dated this far from the age of ACT UP, but they no more detract from the viewing experience than Hitchcock's camera showmanship does from the white-knuckle thrills of Rope. A product of its times, Swoon transcends them with careful craftsmanship and emotional acuity.