..

CRUEL INTENTIONS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair
Director:  Roger Kumble
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  97 Minutes
Release Date:  August 3, 1999

“Everybody loves me.  And I intend to keep it that way.”

Film ***

Some films delve into areas of bad taste and you wince.  Others revel in it with such glee, you can't help but be amused.  Cruel Intentions is squarely in the latter category.  Loosely based on the French play Les Liasons Dangereuse, it's a story about unpleasant people doing unpleasant things, and having mostly a good time doing them.

Step-siblings Sebastian and Kathryn (Phillippe and Gellar) live a posh, bored life in Manhattan.  So bored are they, in fact, that they seem to find their greatest joy in the selfish acts of manipulating others, mostly through the use of sex.  At the heart of their latest game is a sweet young girl, Annette (Witherspoon), who found fame in a magazine article where she touts the virtues of pre-marital celibacy.  This sounds like a good challenge for Sebastian, who has never failed in a conquest, and it becomes even more interesting when Kathryn suggests a wager over whether or not he can succeed.

To give away much more would be wrong, but it's fair to say things do get a little complicated.  In mind games of manipulation, the lines tend to blur very quickly, and one may think he is in charge, while being used the whole time. 

There are three main strengths inherent in the picture.  One is the cast, which is excellent and convincing to a person.  Second is the film's terrific look, with wonderfully designed, even spectacular looking interiors that help create and enhance the mood and the characterizations.  And third is the script, which is filled with many barbarous witticisms, bluntly crude comments, and occasionally a word or two that really stings.  For the most part, it makes you laugh at the kinds of things you'd normally never laugh at.  Which I found to be an almost cleansing, cathartic experience. 

This film does push the envelope in every way imaginable.  It's brash, it's sexy, it's powered by despicable characters you can't help but be interested in, if not attracted to.  And there truly is something entertaining about the way it enthusiastically plunges into the depths of bad taste, only to come up licking its chops, ready for a second helping.

Video ****

Excellent.  This film uses terrific and widely varying color schemes from setting to setting, and they all reproduce perfectly on this DVD.  No grain, no compression, no softness…good strong detail and sharp images throughout.  A stellar anamorphic transfer, with full frame viewing option as well. 

Audio **1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack is unspectacular given the nature of the movie, but no complaints about it.  Dialogue is clean and clear from start to finish, and while there's not much use of the over-the-shoulder channels or subwoofer, they aren't really missed.

Features ***1/2

The disc includes a commentary track with the director and some crew members…though you have to get a ways into it to learn who everybody is.  There's also two featurettes; one a making-of and one on the film's visual style.  Rounding out the extras are a trailer, music videos by Placebo and Marcy Playground, talent files, and 6 deleted scenes.

Summary:

Cruel Intentions takes the subjects of cruelty, selfishness, and sexual manipulations from a period drama into our modern world, and certainly finds nothing seems out of place.  This is a well acted and written film that manages to entertain thoroughly through the unpleasantness of its characters and various scenarios by maintaining a note of cynicism over romance.