This movie charts the flashy career of a male hustler in the posh settings of Los Angeles' most chic locales. It makes us into a voyeur as we check out this realm, forcing us into the role of tourists, assuming we will be satisfied with a superficial exposure to other people and their places.
Julian (Richard Gere) is the American gigolo. He's got an expensive Westwood apartment, a closet full of Giorgio Armani silks and linens, and a Mercedes 450SL convertible. Although he gets some assignments from a Malibu madman (Nin Van Pallandt) and occasionally works for a black pimp (Bill Duke), Julian sees himself as a free agent, an independent in the business. It is that attitude which gets him in trouble someone frames him for the murder of one of his clients in Palm Springs, and the hard-nosed and cynical cop assigned to the case (Hector Elizondo) is irritated by Julian's cockiness, especially when he announces "Some people are above the law."
Writer-director Paul Schrader (Blue Collar, Hardcore) doesn't know what to do with his protagonist and, as a result, we feel ambiguous about him from start to finish. On the one hand, Julian is a self-centered lout, nothing but a well-to-do hedonist. On the other hand, Julian is a sex specialist who derives pleasure from giving satisfaction to older women. His gifts are especially appreciated by an unhappy senator's wife (Lauren Hutton). In the end, her love provides the redemption Julian needs. Schrader's religious perspective is evident here: whereas Hardcore was an examination of judgment, American Gigolo is a testament to secular grace the unearned and uncalled for love of one human being for another.