The expression ‘femme fatale’ conjures up images of Rita Hayworth, Barbara Stanwyck and Lana Turner or the dream-like sound of a Velvet Underground song. Film noir’s Mesmerizingly beautiful, manipulative and unscrupulously seductive blond bombshells employed sexuality for all the wrong reasons but forged a path in cinema for female characters who were certainly not afraid to show their male counterparts who was boss. The raven haired Linda Fiorentino’s name is a more recent addition to this list.
Neo-noir continued into the 80s and 90s; Jack Nicholson starred in Bob Rafelson’s remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, John Berenger crossed the line of professional and personal when protecting Mimi Rogers in Ridley Scott’s Someone to Watch Over Me, and Sharon Stone infamously showed Michael Douglas a little more than who was boss – or did she? – in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct. Director John Dahl followed up Kill Me Again and the tremendous cult favourite Red Rock West, in which a forthright Nicolas Cage stumbles into a sinister plot of infidelity and murder, with The Last Seduction.
The film is a more characteristically ‘noir’ thriller than its predecessors thanks mainly to its central pairing of aforementioned deadly female lead and unsuspecting male fall guy. Ball-busting career woman Bridget Gregory (Fiorentino) has crooked doctor husband Clay (Bill Pullman) sell a suitcase full of pharmaceutical cocaine, pockets the loot herself and hits the road while he’s taking a well-earned shower. Stopping for gas in hick town ‘Beston’ on the way to Chicago, Bridget chances upon eventual scapegoat Mike (Peter Berg) in a dive bar, aggressively seduces the down-on-his-luck local boy and from there on out sets up shop and exploits the stunned prey for her own ends. Their path inexorably leads to the hatching of a plan for the perfect murder of Clay but which side of the triangle triumphs remains to be seen.
Given her lofty ambitions for the Big Apple high life it’s no surprise that Bridget’s drink of choice is a Manhattan and her assumed name almost a mirror image of New York. Her city brusqueness and downright rudeness don’t please the barkeep upon arrival in Beston but Mike steps in. He could do with getting laid and doesn’t want to be “anchored” to his hometown by a local girl – two birds, one stone. Pure greed appears to be the only justification for Bridget/Wendy’s deplorable actions. She is erotic, ruthless, tenacious, opportunistic, and borders on the psychopathic, something which the puppy-like Mike is simply not able to grasp.
Fiorentino is aggressively sultry, striking in dark glasses, high heels and elegant clothes and her strong performance is suitably abrasive; however, her character is so without redeeming traits of any kind that this detracts from her physical beauty. At the other end of the spectrum, Berg does play the naive, morally challenged rabbit-in-the-headlights admirably and would be a genuinely likeable chap if you didn’t spend so much of the film wanting him to wake up and smell the bacon. A few cameo lines from the dependably despicable J. T. Walsh as Bridget’s lawyer are a worthy aside and Pullman somehow elicits humour as the bereft husband at risk of losing his thumbs to a loan shark whose name “begins and ends with a vowel.”
Dahl handles the film’s pacing well. From the first jazz notes of the credit sequence to its conclusion the film bounces along rhythmically but there is no real snowballing of tension. It’s not unusual for the elements of a film noir to point us down an inevitable path from fairly early on but the overriding emotion at the end of The Last Seduction is more of exasperation than excitement or shock. If only the male characters made better choices…
The 26th January 2015 Blu-ray release of The Last Seduction includes an alternate ending, making of documentary and behind the scenes footage which all give more of an insight into this now renowned neo-noir. If the women of 1950s film noir caused a storm, then Linda Fiorentino in Dahl’s film is a hurricane.
This review also appears here at OnTheBox.com.