Femme Fatale (2002)

When a heist goes awry, Laure Ash poses as a woman, stealing her identity and sets out to live a straight life while attempting to dodge two of her ex-partners out for vengeance and a photographer who wants her picture for the tabloids. I was literally stunned by DePalma’s (Carrie, Blowout) visually engrossing direction that so eloquently depicts every action of the story he is trying to tell. He is the master of the split screen which he uses to emphasize character motive and personality. At times, there were scenes so incredible, I just had to rewind and see it all over again. He pays attention to every small and seemingly adequate detail from the largest of street settings to confined spaces such as hotel rooms. One of my favorite scenes is where the character Bardo sits along his balcony top watching Ash from across the street; though he doesn’t know what he’s in for yet, he’s oddly intrigued, and another of the best scenes where Bardo fights off an aggressive pursuer of Ash where Bardo steps in begins to fight him. DePalma doesn’t show the fight except relies on sound and imagination as we watch the silhouettes of Bardo fighting off the attacker while he slowly closes in on Ashe’s face who is reacting to the entire scene like a snake watching her prey fight over her.

DePalma displays a multiplicity of colors and textures within every scene almost representing a carefully composed moving painting that he orchestrates like an artist. The character Laure Ash is a take off of noir femme fatales who seduce the hero and ruin their lives, basically planning and plotting for their eventual demise. Except, there is no hero in this movie, nor is there a heroine; just Nicolas Bardo and the femme fatale Laure Ash played with such grace and zeal by Romjin Stamos. You almost wonder if the “X-men” movies wasted the talents that she gives to the audience in this film, becoming a truly despicable, scheming, and yet such an alluring and seductive character that we can barely turn away at times. She’s so sexy, yet so stylish and charming that soon, it becomes hard for the audience to even dislike her. DePalma composes a story so worth becoming involved in that it makes you long for movies that challenge you rather than serving up a quick fix that eventually dies down.  This film would be more tolerable had not the director been more in love with the material than the audience. It’s as if De Palma is so gung-ho on paying homage to his favorite films that he inadvertently dismisses any credibility and potential this film may have for true originality and suspense.

Immediately as the film begins we see the film “Double Indemnity” being played on television, its wicked femme fatale Ingrid Bergman on screen as Stamos’ character Laura lay half-naked among a bed fixated on the film as we see her luminous yet distinct reflection parallel to Bergman’s own visage. It’s an insinuation that the story is a sexier and much more seductive remake, but it isn’t, more of a dedication. It’s also clearly evident by the allegorical and clearly philosophical closer resembling a film by David Lynch with a confusing allegory that is hardly breathtaking when realized, instead it becomes more hackneyed under analyses. De Palma is also so in love with the material he pays tribute to, that it ruins any basic originality or influence this may have been able to muster up. If not for the self-indulgence of De Palma who gushes his material on the screen as an awestruck fanboy rather than a writer attempting to devise his own espionage noir film, the end product would have been rather good. The film wavers through the story with much skill but disappointing results.

I often found myself weary at the slowly paced storytelling; there’s not much material in the film I could have watched and liked because in the long run I felt like I’ve seen all before a million times over and over. Most of the storyline is rather predictable as Stamos’ wicked character attempts to plan, plot, and scheme her way through every event even managing to capture and seduce the likes of Banderas’ character Nicolas Bardo, involving him in a tangled web of deceit and murder. What makes it less involving during the viewing of the film is that there’s basically no real emphasis on the Banderas character nor is there entirely a great deal of depth on his character. In the end, the film feels more like a hazy dream rather than a whole story with De Palma’s vapid attempts at symbolism, plot structure and true storytelling ability muddled beneath his homage’s. Visually stunning, intelligent, and intriguing with great performances all around, but is ultimately ruined by self-indulgent and trite material by DePalma who shows more love for paying homage to his favorite films than giving an honest to goodness story.