Jun 4, 2010

24 FPS Top 100 Films

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DIR: John Dahl

There’s something to be said for implication in cinema, it can certainly be effective. But movies were made to show us things, and with the liberalisation in censorship that has flowed almost continuously since the death of the Hays code in the early 60’s, have come new ways for filmmakers to approach telling even the oldest stories, allowed now to say and show what they couldn’t then. The neo-noir is perhaps the genre that best exemplifies this. The noirs made under the Hays code dripped with implied sex and violence (think of The Killers, and perhaps especially of Double Indemnity), but the neo-noirs don’t have to be so coy. And that’s where The Last Seduction comes in.

John Dahl had, to this point, made something of a career out of neo-noir, with Kill Me Again and Red Rock West, but this was his ultimate entry in the genre, and boasts, in Linda Fiorentino’s Bridget Gregory, one of the most provocative, intelligent, interesting… hell, just one of the flat out greatest, femmes fatale ever put on film. The Last Seduction is original in that, rather than focusing on the male whose life is thrown into turmoil by the femme fatale, it concentrates on the woman, on her machinations. The ultimate endgame of Bridget’s plans stays murky until the very end of the film, but it’s fascinating watching her devious mind and her black heart (“I am a total fucking bitch” she says at one point) at work.

Fiorentino had been a working actress for years at this point (notably scoring a smallish part in Scorsese’s After Hours) but she’d never had a role this good. She clearly knew it, and she grabbed this one with both hands and sunk her teeth into it. The film premiered on cable TV in the US, before showing in cinemas. The technicality in AMPAS rules requiring a film to be shown at cinemas first is probably the sole reason that Fiorentino missed out on – at least – an Oscar nomination. Her Bridget is deliberately cold, certainly a bitch and an arch manipulator, but Fiorentino makes her, if never exactly likeable, certainly extremely compelling, because while we can never see her acting we can always see Bridget’s thought process, that there is calculation behind every move, every word, even when we don’t know what that calculation is (as when she gets the small town guy (Peter Berg) she’s engaged to help her eliminate her husband (Bill Pullman) to pretend to rape her, in a pretty disturbing scene).

While she absolutely owns the film, appearing in every scene and stamping total authority on her every moment on screen, Fiorentino is far from the only thing worth watching here. The supporting cast is packed with outstanding character actors; the aforementioned Pullman as Bridget’s betrayed husband (she’s stolen the proceeds of a drug deal from him), the late JT Walsh as her slimy lawyer and Bill Nunn as a private eye. Peter Berg is perhaps the weak link to a degree, but then that’s his character; the sap.

Steve Barancick’s script is whip smart, filled with cracking dialogue and extremely well written characters. While it adheres to many of the traditions of the genre it’s also extremely difficult to predict where the film is going. It’s also a tightly controlled thing, there are no holes here, the only loose end is tied up with beautiful finality, creating a structure as close to perfect as possible. For his part John Dahl directs the film with all the style the script deserves, successfully adapting classic noir style to both the 1990s and to colour. His use of shadow is outstanding in several scenes, and his grasp on the performances and the pace is strong.

There are two cuts of the film available. Both are exceptional, and I’d probably give the edge to the original version because the pacing is so perfect that some of the less motivated shot extensions in the Director’s Cut take away from that. However, one scene (in which Bridget fulfils one of Mike’s fantasies in a school gymnasium) only available in the DC is among the best in the film, so its well worth seeing that cut too.

“Let’s see”
Mike introduces himself to Bridget with the promise that he’s hung like a horse. She has a rather straightforward response.

A game
Bridget instructs Mike in the art of selling. The product? Murder.

Bridget Gregory: Could you leave? Please?
Mike Swale: I haven't finished charming you yet.
Bridget Gregory: You haven't started.

Bridget Gregory: You're my designated fuck.
Mike Swale: Designated fuck? Do they make cards for that? What if I want to be more than your designated fuck?
Bridget Gregory: Then I'll designate someone else.

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UK: 2 Disc DVD

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