Harold Becker

Harold Becker

It took seven years for him to find a suitable project to mark his solo directorial effort, but in settling on "The Onion Field" (1979), Joseph Wambaugh's based-on-fact novel about cop-killers who manipulate the legal system and avoid prosecution for years, Becker found a suitable project. Bringing a stark, cinema verite approach to the story, he crafted a beautifully realized police drama that doesn't traffic in pat answers or fairy-tale endings. Becker followed with yet another Wambaugh adaptation, "The Black Marble" (1980), a somewhat less successful feature about the growing romance between a female cop and her troubled partner. Part love story, part black comedy, the film never quite gelled, although it did provide for lively supporting performances from the likes of Barbara Babcock, Harry Dean Stanton and James Woods.For his third feature, Becker helmed the gripping "Taps" (1981), a drama about a student uprising at a tightly-run military academy. Although recent Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton and George C. Scott provided marquee value, the film served as a showcase for a host of young male up and comers including Sean Penn (in his film debut) as an intense but conscious-stricken cadet and Tom Cruise (in his first major film role) as a murderous psychopath. For his next project, the director turned to the teen romance genre with "Vision Quest" (1985), about a high school wrestler (Matthew Modine) who romances an older woman of 21 (Linda Fiorentino). While it owes more than a passing debt to many of its contemporaries (the theme of the underdog overcoming odds was quite popular then), the film remains appealing despite its predictability."The Boost" (1988) was an excellent examination of the effects of drug use but the film was overshadowed by the off screen antics of co-stars James Woods and Sean Young. Their relationship provided much fodder for the tabloids and the well-crafted movie was unfairly forgotten. Becker bounced back with the police thriller-cum-romance "Sea of Love" (1989) which rejuvenated the ailing careers of stars Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin. The smart and sensual screenplay by Richard Price provided fine showcases for the stars and Becker handled the atmospheric suspense with skill and care.While "Malice" (1993), a medical thriller about a doctor who thinks he's God (played to the hilt by Alec Baldwin), doesn't hold up if one examines the plot too closely (there are more holes than in a slice of Swiss cheese), it was still well-acted (by Baldwin, Bill Pullman and Nicole Kidman). "City Hall" (1996) reteamed Becker with star Al Pacino in a tale of political corruption that received an unfair critical drubbing and subsequent lackluster box office. The director reunited with Alec Baldwin (this time as an outright villain -- a government agent out to kill an autistic child (played by Miko Hughes) in "Mercury Rising" (1998). Once again displaying a flair for suspense and keeping things moving at a brisk pace, Becker appeared to have found his metier. He solidified that notion with "Domestic Disturbance" (2001), another thriller with a predictable plot that was aided immensely by its fast-paced direction and more than adequate work by stars John Travolta and Vince Vaughn.