Femme Fatale

A Film Review By The Mike

Rating:Rated R for extreme sexuality, violence, language, and lesbianism.
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Rebecca Romijin-Stamos, Peter Coyote
Directed By:Brian DePalma

Final Grade:

When Femme Fatale opens, the first words heard are recognizable to any film history buff. When the camera opens we are shown what we hear, the final confrontation from the 1944 Film-Noir classic Double Indemnity. The camera slowly pans to see the reflection in the TV of its viewer, and finally we see the back view of who’s watching.

It’s probable that our lead character Laure, played by Rebecca Romijin-Stamos, is watching this as a study guide; looking for tricks in the same manner the femme fatale of that film (played by Barbara Stanwyck) acted. The message inside director Brian De Palma’s joke seems to be simple. The women are in it only for money.

OK, that was a bad joke on my part. That is not the message. But what the scene does do is set us up beautifully for Femme Fatale, one of the few films ever made that describes its purpose with its title. For those who don’t know, the femme fatale is a term used to describe the female lead in these kind of thrillers, the girl who seduces the hero and seems so great, until she has a chance to grab the money for herself. At this point, any consideration she had for any other human is tossed aside.

Laure is no exception. After the intro we follow her on her first job, helping a team to steal an “outfit” (that’s the best word I can think of to describe it…watch the movie and you’ll get it) made of 10 million dollars worth of diamonds that is being worn by a supermodel at the Cannes Film Festival.

The theft is one of the most daring ones ever filmed, but it’s not daring for the reasons most film heists are. This one involves Laure seducing the supermodel into a femme-on-femme “rendezvous” in a restroom stall. While she slowly removes each piece of the outfit, a partner of hers replaces them on the floor. Of course, things go bad, and when Laure decides to save the model and shoot her partner, leaving him to be captured, she allows herself to become a hunted woman. That is of course, after her daring escape.

The story moves on, to seven years later, where Laure, still being hunted and now married to an American diplomat (Coyote), is photographed by freelance photographer Nicolas Bardo (Banderas), whom is getting big bucks for getting a pic of the ambassador’s camera-shy wife.

We know that there’s a reason she doesn’t want photographed, but Bardo does not. When he realizes she’s in trouble, he follows her and becomes entangled in the usual web of deceit that occurs in a film like this. Can he trust her? Is he in over his head? Or is he working on his own scheme?

I say “film like this” as if I’m implying it is unoriginal, but that’s not an entirely true statement. The film definitely does not have an extremely original plot, and the characters are not drawn out well early on. And, yes, the film is very drawn toward sexuality and is very hard to watch comfortably at many points. The sexuality is necessary to the character development and story, and De Palma gets his points across using this quite well.

The film benefits from being magnificently shot and edited. De Palma’s signature maneuvers, especially his use of split-screen shots and use of first-person camera angles are used often, but are also used perfectly. The film is one of the most well made films I’ve seen in years. It’s comforting to see Brian De Palma back in his element.

I must warn again though, that this film is not an easy one to view if you’re thinking in the “traditional” manner. Modern audiences are more comfortable with this type of film than audiences of the past. But De Palma knows how to push the envelope, and he makes sure that he is dominating the film at every moment, regardless what the audience will think. If you’re one of the “normal” people you’ll be confused, but those of you who are dark inside like myself will survive. If you know what you’re in for, and view it with an open and active mind, it’s easy to see that Femme Fatale is one of the best films of the year. It’s not a friendly or pleasant view at times, but it’s amazingly done, and the last twenty minutes are as breathtaking and enthralling as any film ending in years. Earlier this year I said that about another film, Frailty, but this ending even tops that one in surprise points.

Time must have brought a kinder vision to Brian De Palma, as this ending seems different than the style of his work, even different from the style of most of this film. I almost slipped in my understanding of it, but after a quick thoughtbreak I was back on track. It’s a confusing, discomforting film, but it’s also a great film, and that’s all I really want in the end.

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