I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Femme Fatale

Brian De Palma has gotta be one of the most controversial directors there is. Not because of the content of his movies but because of the reactions to them. It seems like anybody who knows who he is either hates him or loves him. Mostly hates. But they’re wrong.

The reasons for hating him: the movies are too good. I’m sick of seeing movies that are so clever and well made. Why does every Brian De Palma movie have to be a masterpiece or an interesting failure? Why are his movies so stylish? It gets old after a while. De Palma has a recognizable style, I’d rather not be able to tell the difference between one movie and any other movie. His style is too fetishistic, thrillers aren’t supposed to be personal. It’s too hard to tell where the movie is going, it makes me uncomfortable. How DARE he surprise the audience with the beginning and ending of a Mission Impossible movie? I wanted to get exactly what I expected and nothing else. His camerawork and editing is distracting because it is too inventive. If he’s such a great director, why hasn’t he done a movie about world war 2 or retards? Also why is he so into Hitchcock. It’s almost like he admires Hitchcock, he does so many homages to him. I noticed part that was like a Hitchcock movie. Since I spotted it I have every right to be angry. I hope I get a ribbon.

Femme FataleWell if you hate De Palma then you hate him, this movie is not for you. (It is directed by Brian De Palma.) But otherwise you’re gonna love this movie because this is him back at full strength. I never saw that Martian movie. To be safe, I’ll assume it really is bad. I did see SNAKE EYES which is great until the end when the big ending it’s all carefully leading up to suddenly doesn’t happen, because the studio made him change whatever it was. I’m still waiting for a director’s cut.

FEMME FATALE doesn’t pull any such shenanigans, it’s just pure De Palma self conscious, sexy, indulgent, clever, contrived thriller. From the first shot to the last you know it’s all deliberate and calculated and you just know De Palma knows exactly what he’s doing with each detail and each move of the camera. Even the score is on the verge of being cocky. The score knows where the movie is going and knows that you don’t. There are times when there is a twist that makes you go “Whuh?” but if you just keep watching you will find that even this ridiculous turn of events was carefully set up from the very beginning. Just close your eyes and De Palma will catch you.

Although it’s all made up of traditional thriller elements (diamond heist, seduction, betrayal, misdirection, mistaken identity, voyeurism, revenge, suicide, blackmail, kidnapping, fraud, Paris) it doesn’t follow the template of the usual thriller. The structure is very complicated but doesn’t feel wobbly at all. It starts with a team of thieves pulling off a lesbian seduction/diamond heist in the bathroom during the Cannes Film Festival (did I mention Brian De Palma directed this movie?) and you quickly find that the seductress is more the protagonist than the femme fatale of the title. Played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (one of a handful of ridiculously exotic supermodels in the movie), she is the one crook who seems to have a little bit of a conscience. She is offended when the caper turns violent so she tries to take off with the jewels herself. As she plans her escape to America you root for her to get away with it, even though you don’t know anything about her background and she barely talks. It takes a while to even figure out whether Romijn-Stamos is faking a French accent or playing an American faking a French accent.

Romijn-Stamos is a great De Palma protagonist. She has the unattainable beauty and aggressive sexuality, and she doesn’t have to say too many lines. (When she does, she does them well, though.) She looks great wearing a variety of disguises, expensive outfits and lingerie. In movies, she has an aura of mystery and exoticism, like when she played the naked blue chick in X-MEN. If you see her on talk shows she seems like a goofball, though. I think she’s even married to one of the dudes that raised the Olsen twins.

Then after falling into a huge coincidence that even makes her character say “Holy shit!”, we cut to 7 years later and she’s living a different life and we don’t see her for a while. Instead we focus on the leatherjacketed photographer Antonio Banderas. We know he’s a good guy because 1) he’s Antonio Banderas 2) he is out of money and 3) he used to be a paparazzi type photographer but now is an artist type photographer. He went straight, man.

So like when Janet Leigh died in PSYCHO (wait a minute, isn’t that a Hitchcock movie? god damn it De Palma) you shift your identification over to Banderas and when he gets involved with Mrs. Romijn-Stamos, she really does become the femme fatale. So now you’re rooting for him to get out of it instead of her to get away with it.

And then as things get more sleazy and they’re fuckin on a pool table in a bar you start to wonder if you even side with EITHER of these scumbags. And then things get alot more complicated than that.

I wouldn’t want to give away any of the tricks of this movie, so I won’t say much more. But it’s good shit. It’s nice to feel like you’re in good hands watching a sexy thriller. You don’t get that too often anymore. And I like De Palma’s fetishism. He is fascinated by voyeurism and you become fascinated with his fascination as you watch Gregg Henry watch Antonio Banderas watch Rebecca Romijn-Stamos who it turns out wants to be watched anyway. (So maybe it’s exhibitionism?)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 1st, 2002 at 6:31 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 Responses to “Femme Fatale”

  1. God this movie was fucking dogshit. I’m sorry Vern but I pretty much disagree with everything you said here. I thought the opening lesbian/jewel heist scene was overly long and absurd. And not regular fun De Palma absurd but just this-is-fucking-stupid absurd. I’m not asking for realism in my De Palma movies but come the fuck on. They could have at least made the bathroom doors opaque so we wouldn’t keep asking why the girl wearing the jewelry doesn’t see Romijn’s partner taking the jewels from under the door. I also thought Romijn and Banderas give career worst performances in this. If I didn’t already know she was a suppermodel turned actress you’d easily be able to tell from her very first line reading. Being really hot and having charisma are two different things. Same thing goes for Banderas. He seems to have no idea what he’s doing in this. The scene where he pretends to be gay was features some of the most cringeworthy acting I’ve seen in some time. The only thing I can honestly say I liked about the movie was the weirdo ending. The movie could have used more stuff like that. It was far too late though.

  2. I agree with you Vern! I absolutely LOVE this movie, although I can understand the hate. It’s not for everyone, but as a fan of De Palma’s and smart thrillers, I call this a goddamned masterpiece.

  3. Caught the pretty great DE PALMA doco last night. It’s De Palma talking us through his entire career in chronological order, with a lot of personal insights like how as a teen, he spyed on his cheating dad with a camera and confronted the mistress who was hiding in a cupboard. It’s easy to forget just how many films he’s made in 40 years (close to 30 features), a lot of them masterful classics. He shares lots of great stories from the 70’s when he would hang out with Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas and Coppola.

    He also shows us the original ending of SNAKE EYES, where God sends a tsunami to wipe out the corrupt city. I’d never seen that before. Bring on a Directors Cut.

  4. Oh wow, they show that? I have a friend who saw the original ending in a test screening back when it came out. He always said it made more sense.

  5. *SPOILERS* Man, I thought I loved this movie back in 2002 – I loved it even more watching it again last night. I always thought despite the bravado and style on display, the “twist” here suffered by being in close proximity to all the other “twist” movies of the time (Fight Club, Sixth Sense, etc…) – and let’s be honest, “It was all a dream” is one of the most eye-rollingest twists you can do and always feels like a cheat.

    But a rewatch where you already know the whole thing is a dream (plus De Palma straight up gives it away like 1 minute into the dream with the inexplicable overflowing aquarium gag) actually reframes it less as a “twist” movie and more as “Brian De Palma’s Mr. Destiny/Sliding Doors” or more accurately, “Brian De Palma’s It’s a Wonderful Life”, which I can’t believe I didn’t catch till now since Romijn literally says “Go have A Wonderful Life!” to her doppelganger at the end while looking straight into the camera.

    Love that it ends up being a heist movie (complete with “I thought you said nobody was gonna get hurt!” team member), a femme fatale movie, a time travel movie, a Christmas Carol-style morality play, and even sort-of a superhero origin story (a petty thief apparently gains a superpower from an accident/blow to the head and after being selfish, learns to use her powers for good). Love that Romijn’s change of heart and sacrifice actually starts a Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque chain of events that comes back around to help her in the end. Like Bad Lieutenant 2, this is a surprisingly feel-good movie that shows you assholes being assholes for 2 hours and somehow leaves you rooting for them and smiling at the end.

  6. I want to second the DePalma documentary. A great entirely from his view talk. No cut-aways to experts, historians, critics, or (usually terrible) celebrity fans. Just De Palma telling what you he thinks of his movies and what his state of mind was at the time. As a result, it can come off a bit scatter-shot on certain movies (RAISING CAIN for example) and some he clearly wants to talk about more than others, but you leave the movie with a very good understanding of who he is as an artist and where he is coming from. Highly recommended for fans.

    Thanks Poe for finally pushing me to watch it. It’s been on my radar for a while but when it came out it just sat there in my Amazon Watchlist queue. So thanks for the push!

  7. To those who have seen the DePalma doc- does it have massive spoilers for all his movies? I’ve been trying to put off seeing it until I’ve seen all of his movies for fear of spoilers, but unfortunately Sisters and Obsession are a little harder to find. I don’t want to put it off too long and find the doc gone from Amazon Prime one day.

  8. You know, I’ve seen both OBSESSION and DE PALMA and I still couldn’t tell you. I don’t remember enough about the movie to remember if the doc gave anything away. It’s probably De Palma’s worst (by which I mean most boring) Hitchcock homage. So if you’re worried about it ruining a great film, don’t. It’s not that good to begin with.

    I don’t recall it giving away anything about SISTERS that you wouldn’t guess just from the premise. The only ones I remember it being particularly spoiler-y about in a damaging way would be DRESSED TO KILL and BLOW OUT. But you’ve probably already seen those.

  9. The doc assumes you’ve seen all his movies, including MISSION TO MARS, and doesn’t bother with spoiler-warnings (I even had a joke in my post above about it spoiling them but I took it out). They pretty much go over every ending of his movies (or at least show clips of them).

  10. In a similar way geoffrey I’d had the DE PALMA bluray sitting on the shelf since before Christmas (tempting me with “Come on, you know want to watch me, you call yourself a voyeur?..”), but put it off because I knew it would make want to watch most of his films again, and I didn’t have the time for a Master Marathon.

    And I was right. The first one I revisited last night was THE UNTOUCHABLES. Holds up beautifully for a prestige studio film, allowing De Palma some great flourishes with more than one exciting set-piece (not just the train station). The Morricone score is one of his best and most memorable.

    At first I didn’t really take to Costner’s boy scout Ness and his cheesy declarations of “Lets do some good!”, but then I totally forgot he does a 180 by the end and goes Dirty Elliot! And he gets a great one-liner 80’s Arnold pun after dispatching a villain towards the end. Thanks to David Mamet, no less. Will hold off any more comments in case Vern gets around to a review.

  11. THE UNTOUCHABLES is a beautiful film.

    I split with De Palma after SNAKE EYES. Maybe I shouldn’t have done, but I did. There was no-one else involved.

    I remember the thing that got me through SNAKE EYES was pretending Stan Shaw’s boxer was the grandson of Stan Shaw’s boxer from HARLEM NIGHTS.

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