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Pacific Heights

Pacific Heights (1990)

September. 28,1990
| Thriller

A couple works hard to renovate their dream house and become landlords to pay for it. Unfortunately one of their tenants has plans of his own.


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Pacific Heights is an underrated movie and has Michael Keaton playing a sinister role as the tenant from hell. Melanie Griffith and Mathew Modine play a yuppie San Francisco couple who rent out their sublet to others. Unfortunately Michael Keaton- a rich but shady customer enters the fray and immediately convinces them to let him stay. It's a psychological thriller with a nice setting. I suggest you go in with an open mind.


This movie begins with a man named "Carter Hays" (Michael Keaton) in bed with a woman when suddenly the door bursts open and two men enter and proceed to beat him with a baseball bat. The film then shifts to a man by the name of "Drake Goodman" (Matthew Modine) and his girlfriend "Patty Parker" (Melanie Griffith) buying a large Victorian house with the intent on renting some of the rooms out in order to help pay off their sizeable mortgage. Unfortunately, one of the first people to apply for a rent is Carter who convinces Drake to forgo the usual procedures and disregard the normal paperwork. Big mistake--as from that point on Drake's life quickly spirals out-of-control due to Carter's evil manipulations. Now rather than reveal any more I will just say that this is the type of film that is was an interesting movie for the most part which included a good performance by Michael Keaton as the dark and sinister villain. On the other hand, the repeated violent outbursts of Drake got a bit old after the first time or two and ruined any sympathy I might have had for him. Even so, although this isn't a film that I would want to see more than once or twice, it was good enough for the time spent and I have rated it accordingly. Slightly above average.


Pacific Heights has characters - at least in the male leads - who are unlikable and/or are rather underdeveloped. To be sure, John Schlesinger casting Michael Keaton was a smart move: the man has screen charisma to burn, certainly at that time in 1989/1990, when he was hot off his two most iconic performances (Batman/Beetlejuice, both hard not to quote at times during this movie when those characters got at their most crazed). But I wonder what the thought was with Matthew Modine; I couldn't tell whether he was mis-cast, or if the part as just crummy. In any case, Modine and Melanie Griffith are boyfriend/girlfriend, expecting a baby, and with a new house right in the heart of San Francisco that they need to rent out some levels to. Due to a misunderstanding they miss out on the Nice Black Guy (darn, there goes his application down the stairs, and another plot device) and instead get Keaton's Carter Hayes as a tenant.But oh, what about the lease, or the rent? The mind games start immediately, and that's kind of a problem with the story. If the screenwriter took a little time to develop this man as somewhat of a threat, maybe make him interesting at first, perhaps even relatable, then gradually turn the screws in a gaslight fashion on these landlords, the suspense would be more palpable. As it is, Carter is basically a nut almost from minute one, and while one would think the audience should be on the Happy-But-Not-Now couple's side, Drake's reaction is that of super-high hysterics. He yells, he curses, he's played at level-11 in a manner that it's no wonder Carter can get the upper hand on this couple. Oh, and then there's the rather extreme things done to the place to make it foreclose-able: drills late at night, cockroach breeding to infestate, and other creepy moments.In other words, Pacific Heights is not one for subtlety. This doesn't mean the movie isn't entertaining on a completely trashy, sort of tasteless level. Scene after scene shows things getting worse for the good guys while the 'bad' guy gets away with this. And yet, this is in Planet Movie Land that he's doing this. So many questions get raised that the audience just has to accept when it comes to the laws regarding how a tenant can f*** with the landords and visa-versa; doesn't a, I don't know, LEASE have some major factor here? At first I couldn't figure out what Carter's game was, though once I realized it (and thanks to a double check via Ebert's review) it got clearer about this man's plot of divide, foreclose and conquer. And yet... who IS this antagonist? There are parts given some clarity in the third act, and it does start to get better as the proverbial tables get turned. And actually Griffith and Keaton turn in excellent performances, for what they're given to do. But the film has the subtlety of a baleen hammer, and the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer makes it pretty damn dated (moody saxophone, anyone?) I think there's a lot of potential with this sort of idea of one man entering a couple's life and making it into a living hell; right now in theaters we have The Gift by Joel Edgerton, which is a much more clever update of this kind of premise, though mostly because things make logical sense with the plot. A lot happens in this movie, at least it feels that way in the first hour, but the main characters either act clueless or rather stupidly, with Carter as this weird psycho without any explanation. This isn't to say everything should've been spelled out, but a little more character clarity on the part of Carter - or a more gradual progression of the character mechanics - might have made it a legitimately good movie.As it is, Pacific Heights is at best a guilty pleasure, a flick that's not dated well but certainly has a lot of fun moments in watching these actors play these sorta-yuppies in this would-be cat/mouse game. Did I mention how much fun it is quoting Keaton's "LET'S GET NUTS?!" in the climax? 5.5/10


Along with multiple other stories in film, normal and happy couples just can't seem to cut a break with running into some of the most mentally unbalanced individuals. I pity these people; I really do. Look at The Mean Season (1985), Unlawful Entry (1992) or even The Cable Guy (1996). Each share something in common and that's the unstable intruder who doesn't care what he does or how he does it because their upbringing as a child or young adult was very screwed up.Pacific Heights (1990) is the story about a young couple who moved into this specific area and buy a large house to use as an apartment for other tenants. All goes well like they planned until they come in contact with a very slippery and shifty individual who ends up making their lives spiral downward. Odd as it is, I was able to predict what would happen in this kind of situation. I don't know if that's because the writer Daniel Pyne, could not write a more original plot. I say that because like the other films mentioned above, the antagonist relies on and abuses the rights he is given by law to evade the law. This makes the story very formulaic, but I do give credit for the third act because it went in a direction I did not expect.Playing the young spirited couple are Melanie Griffith as Patty Palmer and Matthew Modine as Drake Goodman. Together they permit the sly dog Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton) into their home as a tenant. To be honest, I found Griffith and Modine to be good at playing an unknown couple but I also don't feel like they made their characters stand out enough either. That's because of how formulaic the screenplay was written. As for Keaton, no doubt does he make it look like he has the mental state of a sociopath. He was creepy but I think he could have been creepier. Every now and then he did burst out in anger and that's really what I wanted to see but instead for the most part, the audience will get a controlled anger. However, I also give credit to Keaton for making it look like being a criminal is as easy as one two three. It's unnerving. As for the musical score provided by renowned composer Hans Zimmer, was rather disappointing. It did have a few tunes that got the blood pumping and the muscles tense but there was no theme and there wasn't enough music the emmerse myself into the situations that occurred.However, the reason why I still give this movie the credit it deserves because of how real these situations can be. And the closer it gets to being in your house, the scarier it gets. Having a killer running around is one thing, having a cop breaking an entering because they lust for the a married couple's partner is another, but having a tenant that stalks you during the day and plans by night, can be really upsetting. I sure wouldn't want to be that couple. Whether its Jim Carrey, Richard Jordan, Ray Liotta, Michael Keaton or any other actor that plays mentally disturbed antagonists, these guys are just downright uncomfortable (in a good way). Even if the writing is formulaic, the fact that someone can be this unsettling will still creep people out. The music may not be very compelling either but Michael Keaton and his supporting cast do what is possible to keep the audiences' attention.