Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexuality, Violence and Language
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Starring: Rebecca Romijn, Antonio Banderas, Peter Coyote, Eriq Ebouaney, Rie Rasmussen & Gregg Henry
Femme fatales are prevalent characters in literature and film. They are sexy females who obviously shouldn’t be trusted and headstrong male protagonists end up trusting them anyway. This mistake usually leads to the hero being caught in some sort of trouble or danger…or even death. As opposed to simply waiting in the wings to swoop down on her prey, the femme fatale in 2002’s aptly titled FEMME FATALE takes center stage as a mix of protagonist and antagonist in her own story. Director/writer Brian De Palma may have hit a rough patch of duds in the last two decades, but this stylish box office flop cements itself as his last notably good flick. It’s far from perfect or a modern classic, but FEMME FATALE is a lot of fun for Hitchcock fans and those who dig on De Palma’s earlier thrillers of the 70’s and 80’s.
Laurie Ash is a thief involved in a particularly complicated diamond heist at the Cannes Film Festival. After the plan is ever so slightly botched, Laurie betrays her two cohorts and makes off with the diamonds. By mere near-fatal coincidence, she winds up in the apartment of Lily, a woman who seems to be Laurie’s doppelgänger. Laurie silently watches as the severely depressed Lily commits suicide. Seizing the opportunity placed in front of her, Laurie steals Lily’s identity and makes off to a new life. Unfortunately, the past has a way of catching up to people and this is definitely the case for Laurie. Nicolas Bardo, a paparazzi who snapped an unfortunate photograph of Laurie, also gets roped into her deadly web of deceit.
De Palma shows off his fantastic style in the opening scenes of FEMME FATALE. Employing the use of split screens and a suspenseful 15-minute sequence with minimal dialogue between characters, FATALE echoes of De Palma’s previous work and feels contemporary enough to slightly stand out from those films. The level of confidence behind the camera is clear as the director seems to feel right at home in his old territory. The slick visuals and colorful set design lend to a thick atmosphere that’s menacing and absolutely gorgeous to behold.
Rebecca Romijn is a solid lead as her character plays every man like a fiddle with a dangerous sex appeal and also adopts a convincing French accent. Her wicked character convinces the viewer that the way in which she stacks her cards to come out on top of any opponent is totally plausible. There was one point in Romijn’s delivery that I was ready to chalk up to bad acting, but the way she snaps into different personas showed that this “bad acting” was actually part of her character. I can’t say that I’ve seen Romijn receive any major parts in anything that I’ve seen, save for Mystique in the first three X-MEN films, but she shines here as the title femme fatale. Antonio Banderas, though featured in most of the marketing (including the DVD art), doesn’t really make his way into the film until almost halfway through. Still, he’s a solid, if unconventional protagonist that I was invested in. The way in which he’s manipulated by this dangerous temptress is also very clever.
The big issues with FEMME FATALE mainly fall into the actual script (written by De Palma). There are a couple of plot developments that are mighty convenient, the biggest of which are the far-fetched odds of running into a suicidal doppelgänger. However, a steady pace is kept that never once dragged (at least for me) and made for a suspenseful time. There are arguably one too many twists involved in the unpredictable conclusion, but props to De Palma for playing a well-worn cliché in a way that didn’t piss me off and actually was somewhat original in its usage. Seeing that De Palma had come off of the likes of RAISING CAIN, MISSION TO MARS, and SNAKE EYES before 2002 and would go on to make THE BLACK DAHLIA (my most hated film of all time), REDACTED (a widely reviled flick) and PASSION (a lame remake of an already badly written French thriller), FEMME FATALE seems to be this acclaimed director’s last gasp of quality filmmaking.
Though its style exceeds its story and the end result is far from De Palma’s best work, FEMME FATALE is an unconventional thriller that manages to be a lot of fun. It’s a shame that this film flopped hard at the box office upon its release, making under half of its budget back worldwide, because this is a very cool flick. Those seeking a little-known thriller that will actually thrill and surprise, while also maintaining a sense of devilish fun might want to look into 2002’s FEMME FATALE!