2002, R, 110 min. Directed by Brian De Palma. Starring Antonio Banderas, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Peter Coyote, Rie Rasmussen, Gregg Henry, Edouard Montoute, Eriq Ebouaney, Régis Wargnier.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 8, 2002
Brian De Palma's latest film, the first he has both written and directed since 1992's Raising Cain, is a triumph of style over logic. Although this is not necessarily a good thing, it works spectacularly in this instance and also goes to show that today's young crop of thrill-happy directors (who exhibit few signs of excellence in either the style or storytelling departments) have a lot to learn from an old pro like De Palma. Of course, De Palma's naysayers often criticize the director's imitative worship at the shrine of Alfred Hitchcock while failing to see the self-possessed pirouettes De Palma executes across the confines of Hitchcock's immense shadow. Detractors also frequently fail to appreciate both filmmakers' cool ability to make us shiver in the dark and turn the most mundane subjects and objects into lethal weapons and stalkers. If De Palma is to be accused of borrowing from other directors in Femme Fatale however, the filmmaker will have to press charges against himself. Femme Fatale, with its thematic motifs of doubles, voyeurism, and paranoia, brings to mind such earlier De Palma works as Sisters, Dressed to Kill, Body Double, Obsession, and Blow-Out rather than his more recent Hollywood mega-muddles like Mission to Mars and Mission: Impossible. To describe the plot details after only one viewing would, no doubt, prove foolhardy, and also inevitably highlight the movie's many convenient coincidences and logical leaps of faith. It's a tribute to Femme Fatale that these don't matter much in the scheme of things, as De Palma's elegantly sumptuous visuals (courtesy of longtime Luc Besson DP Thierry Arbogast) pull us along like Homeric sailors bewitched by the Sirens' song. It should be enough to know that the opening image of Femme Fatale is a close-up of a TV broadcast of the film noir classic of double-crossing intrigue: Double Indemnity. The camera pans over to the luciously reclining body of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as she rouses to set in motion the film's showplace opening sequence set amid the ceremonial pomp of the Cannes Film Festival. It's a wower of a sequence involving elaborate jewel-thievery, lesbian sex in a sparklingly clean powder room, chases and getaways, and more. It's no wonder that arriving at the next sequence of events demands even more outrageous circumnavigations. And so it goes (another sequence of events begins with the improbable words “Seven Years Later”). To date, no other director has used Rebecca Romijn-Stamos with such fitting panache. The blank countenance and limited dramatic skills of the supermodel-turned-actress is used to amplify the mystery and duplicity of Laure (who is also sometimes known as Lily). Banderas is fun as the paparazzo thrust into the eye of this storm -- like the protagonists in Body Double or Blow-Out, he is drawn inadvertently in by the truth of the cinematic evidence he captures. Anyone who caught more than a few minutes of the TV version of Carrie the other night knows how hard it really is to make (or remake) a De Palma. Femme Fatale is not the director's best work ever, but it is as good as we've seen him be in much too long a time.