Killing Me Softly
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Killing Me Softly

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Film audiences have typically enjoyed movies where a drastic alteration in life style is forced upon a character. Perhaps it is a secret desire in the minds of the viewers to break out of their mundane lives and to be able to vicariously make such a change themselves. After all, one of he main functions of cinema is to take people to locations and emotional states they are not able to make in real life. In ‘Killing Me Softly’ we find ourselves concerned with the life of Alice (Heather Graham). She lives a rather uneventful life, safe, easy going and familiar. Her boyfriend Jake (Jason Hughes) compliments her perfectly. Alice has fallen early into what mot people in the world know all to well, routine. Routine for Alice is a double edged sword, on one hand safe and comforting but on the other, lacking in stimulation. Then one fateful day she meets Adam (Joseph Fiennes) and as the saying goes, he rocks her world. In typical movie fashion they met on the street, their fingers accidentally brush against each other, they turn, and their eyes meet. Alice is captivated by him, when she gets to work she looks out the window to see where he was going. They met later on and she falls into bed with him. The first stone of the coming avalanche has started downhill. Alice breaks off her comfortable relationship with Jake to continue her torrid affair with Adam. Alice finds that she can rebel against her mundane life by surrendering all control to Adam. In one of the many erotic scenes he places a scarf around her neck during sex. Alice has surrendered the most basic function of life, breathing, to her new lover. Naturally, our heroine is due for an unexpected turns in her new life. She receives an anonymous note warning her that there is much about Adam that she does not know. At this point the film attempts to delve deeper into the film noir genre but it just falls short of that goal. Since the film is told in a retrospective narrative by Alice the stage has been set to go noir, as it were. The novel difference here is in classic film noir the narrative is usually male, how the stunning femme fatale lead him down the road to ruin. Here, in an almost politically correct manner, the tables are turned and the young woman provides the account of how a handsome man destroyed her comfortable and safe life.

This film is basically a two actor vehicle. Ancillary characters are reduced to almost the level of scenery. A case can be made that this helps to demonstrate how Alice’s world collapsed to the one focus, her affair with Adam. Joseph Fiennes is more than up to the task of portraying the mysterious and sensuous Adam. He shows great mastery in his ability to alternate cruelty and kindness in his relationship with Alice. This is a balancing act that while many actors are capable of Fiennes brings his unique depth to the table. Natural comparisons have been made to his romantic performance in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ but personally, I felt there was a much more intense performance required for this role. Heather Graham is considered by many reviewers, and perhaps much of the audience as the eye candy starlet type. Unfortunately, many of her roles put her physical assets on display sacrificing her acting abilities. Of course in this film the audience gets to see more of Ms Graham than in any other film but there is also the chance to see that she can act. Her performance here is perhaps her best since ‘Drugstore Cowboy’. Graham is also charged with the arduous task of balancing vulnerability in Alice with a darker side, one that craves the perilous edge of life experience. There is an undeniable chemistry between these two physically attractive leads. While this will be the main reason for many to purchase the film do yourself a favor and actually watch the film, get into the acting talents of these rising stars.

Chen Kaige who directs this film is with out doubt not a name known to most Western, English speaking audiences. What I found very interesting is how someone not brought up in our culture interprets the familiar genres of our films. Kaige does fall into the usual trap many directors are subject to now, wanting to cram several genres into a single film. There are elements of erotic thriller, mystery and film noir (or more accurately neo-noir) present in the film. Even though in life few things are in a single category for a film too many genres can detract from the overall emotional impact of the story. That being said Kaige is an accomplished director that knows how to use visuals to bolster the audience’s commitment to a film. This movie is visually riveting. He uses subtitle devices to almost subconsciously draw the viewer into the story and the required emotional investment in its characters. One example is when Adam and Alice meet. We see a flashing light, Stop/Go, nicely foreshadowing the emotional state of Alice. His use of lighting and his contrast between light and shadow shows a keen eye. This talented eye is also seen in the way each shot is framed. The audience is draw to the events on the screen but also catches glimpses of little visual clues to the emotions portrayed.

Much to my dismay MGM did not invest too heavily on the mastering of this disc. The only extra is the almost required trailer. The audio is Dolby 5.1 but the sound field was a bit flat during most of the film. Sure it did its job, especially considering the type of film but there was little outstanding about it. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video was excellent. It permitted each detail to be visible to the viewer. The DVD is available in both an ‘R’ rated and unrated form. I seriously doubt many will opt for the rated version. Bottom line here this film pleasantly surprised me. Although there are some flaws the overall film holds together nicely.

Posted 3/26/03

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