Friday, May 8, 2009

UNDERRATED: FEMME FATALE (2002)

Brian De Palma's B-movie masterpiece Femme Fatale is a film that not enough people have seen. It came and went from theaters in the fall of 2002 and was met with very divided opinions by critics. Some people hated it and some people really loved it, as is the case very often with De Palma's films. However, if you want to read some excellent pieces of film criticism, check out the completely spot on reviews by Roger Ebert http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/articleAID=/20021106/REVIEWS/211060301/1023 and A.O. Scott http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/06/movies/06FEMM.html

The film is a supremely stylish ode to Hitchcock, murder, crime, sexy women, dangerous men, shady dealings, surrealistic dream-style fantasy, and to De Palma himself. Often labeled a Hitchcock rip-off by some critics, De Palma has made a career out of exposing a perverse sense of suspense and sexuality in his movies; check out Body Double, Dressed to Kill, Sisters, Blow Out, and Obsession for a masters class in kinky cinema. In Femme Fatale, he has fun with his own body of work, and rips himself off multiple times, with much apparent glee. Its the De Palmiest of De Palma films, like how Domino is the Toniest of Tony Scott films. The plot is too much fun to spoil in a review, but I will say that I agree with Ebert's claim that the movie is an example of "pure filmmaking." Femme Fatale is in love with cinema, and, to an exciting degree, in love with itself. It's a pastiche of different years and styles of filmmaking, revolving around an often immitated genre staple (the femme fatale and the man she dupes), set in elegant locations, and starring one of the sexiest women of all time, Rebecca Romijn. The opening heist sequence, almost 15 minutes in length and with limited dialogue, is the very definition of a tour de force. Working with the incredible cinematographer Thierry Abrogast (Leon, The Fifth Element), De Palma's swerving, gliding camerawork takes the viewer on a twisty journey down the red carpet and into one of the main screening rooms at the Cannes Film Festival, where an erotically-charged diamond heist is taking place behind the scenes. I fear I've already said too much. This movie is just a ton of fun to watch. If you like classic noirs like The Big Sleep and Double Indemnity (which gets a clever shout-out at the begining of Femme Fatale) and neo-noirs like The Last Seduction and Red Rock West (what the fuck happened to John Dahl?!), then you'll love Femme Fatale. It's glorious moviemaking.

12 comments:

Lemmy Caution said...

I have a mostly love/hate relationship with DePalma. Sometimes he can blow me away with his direction and overall style (Untouchables, Bosy Double, Blow Out).

And then sometimes I just wonder what the hell he was thinking (Snake Eyes, Black Dahlia).

I only saw Femmes Fatale once....and remember being sort of split on it. I liked the style but thought the story was a cheat.

Your post here has moved me to bump it up on the old Netflix list and give it another shot.

Actionman said...

Well, to be fair to Snake Eyes, it does have one of the greatest single takes ever put on film. The opening 20 mins of that movie is simply mesmerizing. It does fall apart at the end, but I think it's a *** movie with some **** scenes. I pretty much hated The Black Dahlia and Mission to Mars, but have loved or really liked the rest of his output that I've seen. I still haven't seen some of his earlier work. He's a top 20filmmaker for me.

Definitely give Femme Fatale another shot. It's awesome.

Also -- have you ever seen The Fury? I saw it on a double bill with Body Double a few years ago, and while The Fury is sort of cheesy by today's thriller standards, a remake could be really nifty. It's a funky little movie.

A. Smithee said...

I am a big fan of De Palma and totally agree with you. I like the atmosphere in "Snake Eyes" a lot. In my opinion it is underrated.
Do not forget "Dressed to kill" with Michael Caine - a classic.

Lemmy Caution said...

Yes...Body Double is excellent. Seen it more than a few times and it never fails to entertain.

Yes, The Fury is good as well. Funky little movie indeed. And if I remember right, it has one of the most impressive 'exploding bodies' scenes this side of Scanners.

For good early DePalma, definately check out SISTERS. Excellent little flick.

Wayne said...

I more or less give up on DePalma. He's had his moments, and most of his films have a cool camera move or two, but he doesn't seem to have much past film school tricks/Hitchcock-Scorsese worship in his toolbox.

I vastly prefer reading essays of his work over actually watching his films. No one makes a case for his films quite like his fans. Too bad he can't make his own case.

Actionman said...

Wayne -- did you see Femme Fatale?

Wayne said...

Yes I did. And to answer your next question, other than that first set piece...no, no I did not like it.

Actionman said...

Interesting. I'd have thought you'd be down with it. I find it thoroughly watchable and extremely entertaining.

Wayne said...

Unfortunately...nope. I may have liked it even less than "Snake Eyes" which is saying something. I love reading about the film, though. Ebert convinced me I might like it the first time, and your write-up has me *ALMOST* giving it another look.

Lon said...

No love for crying aliens apparently.

Actionman said...

Lon -- no. No love for the crying aliens. Mission to Mars is one of the most insipid movies of all time.

Wayne -- yes -- do check the film out again. It's delirious fun. And I also like Snake Eyes more than most people.

Joel said...

I'm with Nick on Mission to Mars. Awful. Need to see Femme Fatale. Have been really close to doing so, and then it slips away from me.