By 2002, De Palma fans were thirsty...he hadn't made a bona-fide thriller since 1998's Snake Eyes and his turn of the century sci-fi film Mission to Mars left much to be desired (and was more like his big Hollywood fare like Mission: Impossible and The Untouchables, meaning they were good but had little of the master's personal style). It was almost as though he had given up on writing and directing his own films...perhaps due to the fact that he never seemed to get any appreciation for it. But in 2002 he came back with a limited-release film that was not only another auteur project but was about as far away from his Hitchcock-homaging as he could get. It was also the last great 'written and directed by' fiction film for the man, as since then he has only made the confusing The Black Dahlia and his reactionary documentary Redacted since then. One can only hope that he's cooking up a good one in that brain of his, and that we will get to see it soon. So it is on this slightly somber note that I begin my review of my last De Palma A la Mode entry on Femme Fatale.
Like all of De Palma's films, Fatale has several great set pieces in it...not the least of which is the outstanding opening sequence. For this film, De Palma decided to stage a brilliant heist and the Cannes Film Festival. The target? The amazing gold and diamond encrusted brassiere worn by a glamorous model, Veronica (Rie Rasmussen), attending the show. How to get it? It seems the model has a thing for the ladies...and so the bait is equally glamorous and mysterious Laure (Rebecca Romijn). Laure infiltrates the ceremonies disguised as a photographer and lures the unsuspecting Veronica to the ladies room where she proceeds to seduce her. Everything seems to be going well when, of course, everything goes wrong. Laure pockets the diamonds for herself and goes on the run, leaving her companions behind to go to prison. While trying to escape, she is photographed by Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) and then tracked down by one of the crooks who tries to kill her by throwing her off a balcony. She survives by landing on a soft pile of tubing for construction and is there mistaken for the daughter of a French couple. Laure then has the unfortunate honor of being the only witness to the daughter's suicide, and there being no one else around, she decides to steal the woman's identity in order to escape her captors. She ends up marrying the American Ambassador to France and is again photographed by Bardo years later...giving away her existence to her old heist partners who are now free from prison.
Does this plot sound a little convoluted? Well, it is...but it also ends up making complete sense when you watch it all the way through...and even more sense when you watch it a second time. De Palma weaves a very tight story with this one that is certain to surprise anyone who views it, mainly because you really don't understand what's going on until the end. However, you do get an inkling that everything happening in it after Laure is tossed off the balcony is unusually familiar with certain areas and people resurfacing to become significant yet again, and those moments are all clues to what De Palma is working towards in the story. Just what that revelation is, you know I won't say, but I will say that I sure wasn't expecting it. Just like in Body Double, when I thought I was watching one thing...I was really watching something else. There are many people who once again pounce on its flaws...in that much of it is completely improbable...but then I think that is part of the point that resides in knowing the finale (and yes, I know that none of you who haven't seen the film will know what I mean). There are also complaints on the acting, and that it is forced and fake. But I honestly seen nothing here that differs in any way from the performances in the films prior...and they were raves. In fact, Romijn acts circles around Cliff Robertson in Obsession in my opinion and is much better than I ever expected her to be. Banderas on the other hand does have a little difficulty becoming a character you can relate to till the end of the film, but in his defense...he is given the smaller of the two roles and isn't given as much chance to grow as a character. That he is able to rally our sympathy at the end of the picture should be a real testament to his skills as an actor, given that the character is rather flat. And really, how can you down an actor who is this hot? Usually I don't make that excuse for anyone...but I can't help it. The man is HOT in this...and he doesn't even get naked or anything. Gregg Henry, a De Palma standby, also appears in this...so if you've been following along you should look for him. I also want to take time to notice the score in this film. De Palma would eventually end his long time collaboration with Pino Donaggio and the composer he found for this, Ryuichi Sakamoto, seems like an amazing fit. He has a sound like Donaggio and Herrmann, but also manages to weave original themes of his own, like the Heist theme which seems inspired by Bolero (fittingly called Bolarish). It fits the tone of the film like a glove (where as Donaggio would sometimes stick out in places) and one wishes that De Palma had found him earlier in his career (though he may be so young that that wouldn't have been possible...I don't really know). Oh, and so as to not sound like a broken record, I will just say that the camera work for this is amazing as always. So if you're anxious to see how De Palma has evolved as a filmmaker over time, watch this and Sisters as a double feature some night. You'll be fascinated at the very least.
I hope you have all enjoyed this excursion through my favorites of De Palma and I hope that some of you have added one or two of these to your Netflix queue. Bond has already watched Blow Out (cause I made him) and really enjoyed it...so its not just me who likes this stuff. Oh, and my mom told me that Body Double was one of her favorites (which proves that its not too steamy for the squeamish) so please do discover this artist for yourselves, like I did so many years ago...and I think some of you may come to enjoy his work as much as I have.