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Femme Fatale (2002)

Days of De Palma (Part 16): Femme Fatale (2002)

My journey through the films of Brian De Palma continues!

Following Mr. De Palma’s brief excursion into big-budget sci-fi, his next film returned to him to more familiar ground of crime, mystery, beautiful dames and Hitchcockian double-twists.  I’d never seen Femme Fatale before this De Palma viewing project, and I was interested to see whether this film — whose title seemed to promise a classic sort of De Palma story — would satisfy.

Femme Fatale.cropped

Well, it does and it doesn’t.  There are some great delights in seeing Mr. De Palma return to this somewhat familiar ground, and there’s no question that Femme Fatale gives the master director plenty of opportunities to strut his stuff and demonstrate his extraordinary film-making skills.  But this film’s script just doesn’t have the sharpness of some of Mr. De Palma’s previous, stronger work.  The foundation upon which Mr. De Palma piles his cinematic bells and whistles is somewhat wobbly, and so while the film is fun and certainly held my interest, it doesn’t work as well as Mr. De Palma’s best films.

As the film opens, we see a beautiful, nude woman watching an old noir movie on TV.  In my review of Snake Eyes, I wrote about how it took me until the very end of the film before I realized that the loud, colorful, brash film that I had been watching was in fact a noir, and in that moment I finally understood the film that Mr. De Palma was making.  Here at the start of Femme Fatale, it’s as if Mr. De Palma wants to make sure his intentions are perfectly clear: this is a noir, OK?  Got it?  OK, I’ve got it!  And the beautiful image of a naked woman seen in a reflection is a classic De Palma image.  I love this opening.  I love how skillfully Mr. De Palma plays with the audience, making us wait quite a while before we actually are allowed to see the woman’s face or to hear her speak.  (This is smart, as Rebecca Romijn is competent but not exactly a master actress.  More on this later.)

I’ve noted in so many of these reviews of the films of Mr. De Palma the way he enjoys playing with the notions of watching.  Just as we are watching this movie, so too are so many De Palma characters seen watching others, often through TV or camera screens.  This theme continues to be present here in Femme Fatale.  We see Laure (Rebecca Romijn’s character) watching a noir movie on TV in the film’s opening shot, as I’d just discussed.  We see the cops watching the red carpet on multiple different TV screens.  In a carefully staged and … [continued]