Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To Die For

"To Die For" (Gus Van Sant, 1995) Nicole Kidman plays Suzanne Stone, a local tv weather-girl with a particularly aggressive addiction to celebrity. Her new-found fame conflicts with her ordinary home-life and her marriage to a mechanic. So she plots to murder her husband (Matt Dillon), as his lack of status might hold her back her fortunes. She recruits three teenage misfits (Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Alison Folland) to carry out the homicide and when her in-law's attempt to pin the murder on her, she turns on the kids with blackmail.

A black comedy
mixed with film-noir (that pairing almost never works as it tends to pile on the ironies) on the sociopathy of celebrity, it was written by Buck Henry (based on a novel by Joyce Maynard, which in turn was inspired by the Pamela Smart case) and directed by Gus Van Sant. Those who had seen her in "BMX Bandits" and "Dead Calm" knew that Kidman was more than "Mrs. Tom Cruise," but it wasn't until "To Die For," that she emerged from her superstar husband's shadow and began creating a separate career. An arch performance just shy of camp, it was the first of many of the actress' forays into aberrant personalities that have subsequently dominated her career, and proved troubling to her audience base.

But as time has moved on and
the bar for celebrity has gone as low as a snake's belly, the film looks positively prescient. And Kidman etches an indelible portrait of a femme fatale, hot-blooded in her manipulation and cold-blooded in her abandonment. Making an audition tape, Kidman's Stone looks right into the camera with knowing seductiveness and invites the watcher in on her little dark secrets and fervent desires for tv work. The wileyness of the actress playing the character is matched by the character's own wickedness and the two seem to fuse. Reason enough to watch the film, but Kidman is nearly matched in ferocity by the fine Illeana Douglas, as the Dillon character's sister, who is equally capable of killing for love. It's a movie that will keep you unnerved until the final black comic cold-hearted image.

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