It’s a difficult task to create an erotic thriller. The writer and director has to tread the very thin line between sexual tension and the usual aspects of the thriller and keeping the film from degrading into little more than the soft core faire that populates cable late at night. It is also an arduous task for the creators of such a film to sell it to a studio. Most mainstream studios will shy away from this genre leaving it to the producers of those dubious late night flicks. When a writer/director like Brian De Palma creates an erotic thriller like Femme Fatale the studios know their money is in the best possible hands. The film opens with a group of professional criminals stealing ten million dollars worth of diamonds worn by a supermodel. Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) is the one that obtains the diamonds in a lady’s restroom with an erotic flair that will certainly maintain the attention of the audience. Each of the team on the surface appears to be the typical Hollywood but in the hands of De Palma the similarity is superficial. Each character here performs in a manner that right from the start will keep the audience wondering. After the robbery Laure hides out in Paris where she happens upon a young woman, Lilly, with an amazing resemblance to herself. When Lilly takes her own life Laure assumes her life. She meets an American billionaire (Peter Coyote) and eventually marries him. He film then fast forwards eight years to 2008. The billionaire becomes the ambassador of France. The boss of the theft is out of prison and wants the jewels back. There is also the addition to the mix of a freelance photographer Nick (Antonio Banderas) who naturally becomes involved with Laure, or is it Lilly. He is hired to photograph the wife of the new ambassador and the game is a foot. The film seems to drift along at times but it is always capable of bringing the audience along with it. It feels like swimming in an ocean just as the tide changes. It seems smooth at first but you soon notice the current that has gripped you. When considering the genre I would classify this film I had to decide against thriller. It has the unmistakable feel of a neo-noir, or more exactly an erotic noir. For a good film noir there has to be a few characteristics, a smoldering leading lady, all the characters are basically unlikable but impossible not to watch and nothing can be as it seems at first.
The acting talent in this film does not represent the best out there but they get the job done. The two leads, Romijn-Stamos and Banderas are better known for their incredible appearances and famous spouses than for Oscar winning performances. Without a doubt Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is one of the most beautiful women ever. She has never really been afforded a script that would help her develop as an actress. Here, the sparse dialogue works in her favor. Just as De Palma pays constant homage to Hitchcock, Ms Romijn-Stamos is the typical Hitchcock blond. She is sexy, cool and calculated. Like many of the blonds that De Palma favors in her films she commands the attention of the viewer as she submits to the impressive direction of De Palma. She plays Laure as a lost soul, one really trying to create a new life even as her past is resurrected to haunt her. Banderas can play the shady role very well. While his accent is difficult at times this is not a film that depends too heavily on the spoken word. Again, this works well for the cast. He has a lot of chemistry with Romijn-Stamos, the sensuality pours from the screen. Unlike his scenes in Original Sin with Angelina Jolie, here there audience is comfortable in the suspension of belief required to make this film work.
Books have been written about the talent of Brian De Palmam college students interested in the art of movie making study him and for good reason. No matter what he can always manage to surprise the audience. He is always looking to explore new genres, new technical means of telling a story and because of this he does occasionally miss, just look at ‘Mission to Mars’. While many see this as a fault I have to disagree. If you are willing to take chances you are going to not get it right every so often. What matters is he does bring home the classics. Naturally there are some genres that he favors and it is with these films the audience truly gets a treat. The opening of this film, perhaps the first forty minutes or so, are almost devoid of dialogue. De Palma has always been a visually creative director but here he out does himself. This is the type of film that requires multiple viewings. The visuals are so complex that you will see more with each viewing of the film. His use of light and framing is as close to perfection as humanly possible. He weaves a landscape for his story that uses color and light to tell more of the story than do the words. He also emulates Hitchcock’s perchance of unusual camera angels. Split screens and ‘fly on the wall’ views help to keep the audience off balance throughout most of the film.
The DVD is up to current standards but does not stand out among the many extra laden discs available. The Dolby 5.1 audio is good but nothing stood out for me. While the sound field was well balanced I felt the use of all speakers was a bit bland. The anamorphic video was typically free of defect and extremely clear. This was necessary consider the emphasis on the visual here. The DVD is up to standards but never endeavors to push the envelop in disc mastering. The extras are really just the typical behind the scenes looks and brief analysis of the process used in bringing the film to the screen. This movie does represent a return of De Palma to what he knows best, crime, seduction and the dark nature of man. It is worth being in any collection and a must for De Palma fans.