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.
Well 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.