17 August 2004 | The_Void
Nice little thriller
Brian De Palma made a return to the thriller genre in which he made his name after the gigantic blip that was Mission to Mars, which he suffered two years earlier. But is his return to the genre a hit or another misfire? Neither, actually; it's decent.
The plot follows the escapades of a young lady that screws the mob out of a heist of diamonds, stolen during a thrillingly executed heist at the Cannes film festival. After assuming a new identity, she later returns to Paris where she must evade her past by any means necessary.
Brian De Palma obviously has a talent for filmmaking; this is evident in the majority of his works, particularly the earlier ones. It's not as abundant in this film as it is in some of his others, but that flair is still shown to a certain extent. He does, however, seem to spend a lot of the movie piling on the style, when he would have been better served building character and giving the audience something to care about. Anyone that knows De Palma, knows that he is the man that "does Hitchcock". Here, he doesn't tribute Hitchcock, but rather the melodramatic noir thrillers of the 40's and 50's. This is clearly shown at the start of the movie from the shot where Rebecca Romijn Stamos is sat on a bed, watching the classic noir; Double Indemnity.
Having only seen Stamos previously under heavy make-up in the delicious X-Men films, it was nice to see her here in a 'normal' role, especially as I was one of the people that saw her sex appeal, even under all that attire. De Palma teases the viewer with her at first; he keeps her face hidden behind various objects and camera movements, but when she finally appears; she doesn't disappoint; Rebecca is one beautiful woman. Especially when she dons that brown wig. Starring alongside Stamos, is Antonio Banderas. I like Antonio a lot; I rate him as an actor, and not just for his role in the spectacular Desperado series. However, he isn't at his best in this film. In a role that requires him to don a silly gay accent at certain points, Banderas doesn't quite look at home. Maybe it's just because I'm used to seeing him flying round shooting bad guys, but he struck me as being a little bored.
It may or may not be a good thing that the film is done partly in French, as on one hand it makes it more realistic, and firmly places us in France; but on the other, we have to read subtitles in an American film, and when I watch an American film; I'm not expecting to read subtitles. Especially not ones that disappear before you have a chance to read them fully, as they often do here. Another thing about Femme Fatale is that it never manages to be as sexy as it pretends to be. Despite making almost full use of the lead's assets, it is ultimately more tease than strip. This could be seen as a nod to the classics to which the film owes itself, but for a film that states itself as being a 'steamy thriller', I was expecting slightly more steam.
The film boils down a final and surprising twist. Throughout, the film keeps you guessing, despite being largely hinged on coincidence; and the twist does come as a surprise, but it is that awful, clichéd twist that everyone dreads. However, to De Palma's credit; he does almost make it good. To pull off a twist like the one in this film, the storyteller needs to be talented enough to not make the audience demand their money back when the movie finishes. When the twist first hit, my eyes were starting to role but credit has to be given to De Palma because even though the twist he's working with is silly, he manages to bring the film to a close which wraps it up, and does tie all the loose ends together. And although I'm still not sure if that was the right route for the film to take, it is well done.
Overall, Femme Fatale is an enjoyable thriller that is bound to keep most audience members on the edge of their seats throughout. It doesn't echo the brilliance of Dressed to Kill, Carrie, Sisters or most of De Palma's earlier oeuvre in the thriller genre; but it is the best film that the man has made since The Untouchables, and is therefore recommended.