Review by Gordon Justesen
Antonio Banderas, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Peter Coyote, Gregg Henry
Director: Brian De Palma
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: March 25, 2003
look so familiar. Have we met somewhere before?”
in my dreams.”
If there’s any particular genre that Brian De Palma has mastered in his 30-plus years as a filmmaker, it is that of the erotic thriller, and no other film of his could demonstrate this more than Femme Fatale, which is perhaps the sexiest thriller to come along in years. It’s long been clear that De Palma’s work has always been inspired by Hitchcock, and Femme Fatale is the most Hitchcock-like work he’s ever delivered.
And boy, is it ever
stylish! De Palma has always been known to go for style more than
substance, which most of the time results in some of his finest work, and this
is no exception, but the substance is just as intriguing, and that’s largely
due to two individual sections; a jaw-dropping opening sequence which takes up
the first half hour, and the 360 degree twist De Palma pulls on the viewer in
the end, which is quite astonishing. It is simply the director’s finest piece
of work in years.
The film begins
with such a stunner of an opening sequence, that it should inspire a Best
Opening Sequence award. It takes place at the actual Cannes Film Festival, where
an elaborate diamond heist is about to take place, but not in the way you’d
expect. Expert thief Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) and her team of ruthless
heist men are targeting an elegant dress worn by one a female attendee, which
happens to include nearly $10 million in diamonds. Laure seduces the woman in
the ladies room, while at the same time seductively removing the diamonds from
the dress. A twist to the plan comes when it is revealed that Laure is stealing
the diamonds for herself and betraying her fellow thieves. This entire sequence
is riveting in the way it relies mainly on camera movements and execution, and
much less on dialogue, which is extremely little. The sumptuous score by Ryuichi
Sakamoto that plays in every second is still playing in my head as I write this
With the heist men
on her trail and her future very bleak, Laure sees a chance opportunity to turn
her life around. After she witnesses the suicide of a French woman who looks a
lot like her, Laure assumes the dead woman’s identity and then flees to
America. On her flight, she meets a charming man (Peter Coyote), whom she grows
a liking to. Seven years go by, and that man has now become the American
Ambassador to France, and she has become his wife.
Bardow (Antonio Banderas), a paparazzi photographer with a troubled past. Bardow
has been given an offer through a contact, which is to get a good picture of the
Ambassador’s wife, which no publication seems to have. He does so, and then
sells his picture to the tabloids for a five-figure pay. His world is soon turn
way upside down when he meets the woman in a hotel room, and she slowly begins
to ignite a flirting session. Finding himself strangely and physically drawn to
Laure, Bardow is suckered into something of a scheme, as she sets him up as her
kidnapper, hoping to have the American Ambassador pay a 10 million dollar
ransom, and she can secretly start over once again. But Bardow may have a secret
agenda of his own.
It may seem as if I
have revealed more than I should have, but the truth is I haven’t. A twist is
sparked at the film’s end which some may question the possibility of, but from
my viewpoint, you simply have to go with it, and when you do, you will be
awestruck by a final play of events that after which, you may find yourself
Being an admirer of
Mr. De Palma’s work, the one thing I loved most about Femme Fatale were the trademark filming techniques that the director
help breathe into modern day cinema. The split screen effect, as used in Blow
Out, Carrie, and Snake Eyes is put
to grand use here in many sequences. And the fact that De Palma, who wrote the
screenplay, decided to shoot revealing key scenes without any dialogue was pure
genius in my opinion. The movie itself, if you think about it, is an exercise in
cinematic voyeurism, where watching closely for things to unfold is the key.
It’s one of those rare cases where the viewer is made into a voyeur, and at
the same time can respect themselves in the morning.
Banderas and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, this represents a career high for them both.
Banderas is convincing as the photographer who gets way more than he ever
bargained for, and Ms. Romijn-Stamos is the ideal choice to play the part of a
true femme fatale. She has killer looks, can deceive real easily, and does
anything to get what she wants, I do mean anything.
The first scene in the movie has her lying on a bed watching Double
Indemnity, which is something of a sign of things to come.
To sum it up, Femme
Fatale is vintage Brian De Palma, filled with the unique elements that have
made him the kind of stylish director that he is today. It’s a one of a kind
thriller experience fans of his won’t soon forget.
Absolutely stunning! As far as De Palma movies go, it’s one of the best
presented on DVD. Warner has delivered thus far one of the best looking video
transfers of this year, as the picture emerges with all of the style and visual
power of a De Palma movie. Image quality is thoroughly sharp and clear, never
encountering any flaws, and making terrific use of color and lighting. The split
screen sequences, in particular, are stunning to look at.
With a film like
this which is light on the dialogue, the 5.1 audio mix does a tremendous job of
making the most of the filming techniques. The lavish sets and sequences, like
the opening heist, and the frequent split screen uses deliver the most in
dynamic sound range on this presentation. Dialogue, when spoken, is very much in
the clearest of form.
I’ll give this
area an extra dose of credit. There are three featurettes featured on the disc,
and they are all done very nicely. There is your basic press kit featurette, and
there are two very in-depth documentaries, titled “From Dream to Reality”
and “Dream Within a Dream”. Also included is a photo gallery titled the
“Dressed to Kill Montage”, and two trailers for the movie, the American and