Femme Fatale
Warner Bros. // R // November 6, 2002
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 7, 2002
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The Movie:

After the one-two flops of "Snake Eyes" and "Mission To Mars", "Femme Fatale" has been promoted as a return to familiar thriller territory for director Brian Depalma. If the end result is a return to his noir home base, the gates are locked and the key has been thrown away. After a mildly entertaining opening heist sequence, Depalma manages to do what I thought near-impossible: make another movie that reaches the lows of his prior two films.

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos plays Laure Ash, an ace jewel thief who, as the film begins, is preparing for a diamond heist in Cannes. Once there, we watch as she tempts the actress (Rie Rasmussen, who is reportedly a friend of the actress) wearing the jewels into the bathroom for a pretty steamy robbery. Ash lifts off the jewels from her partner, while her partner-in-crime waits in the next stall and switches the jewels when they hit the ground. Of course, things don't go as planned and double-crosses ensue.

If the movie proceeded like that, I'd have been pleased. Next, Laure is running from two older folks for reasons unknown. After they take her in after an attack, we find out they're parents of a suicidal missing girl who just happens to look like her and have a plane ticket to America. On the plane, she just happens to fall for a millionare ambassador (Peter Coyote). Seven years later, a photographer (Antonio Banderas) takes the secretive Laure's picture for a hefty price tag. Those she double-crossed then try and find her and when Banderas's photographer tries to contact Laure to say he's sorry, he gets dragged into Laure's scheme.

In terms of discussing this film's faults, it's tough to know where to begin. While I'm not as down on Romijn-Stamos's acting as most seem to be, it should have been obvious that this is not the right part for the actress. I imagine her in romantic comedies and maybe supporting parts in dramas, eventually building and fine-tuning acting skills. There is nothing about her to suggest a jewel thief or even a noir character; she is very attractive, sure - but she absolutely lacks the required edge. If the role had gone to another actress, this may have been a somewhat better film. Banderas, on the other hands, seems to understand the fact that he's gotten himself into another fine mess and acts appropriately. The minimal efforts by the supporting cast are also forgettable.

Depalma's screenplay is also alarmingly bad, filled with insultingly unbelievable plot twists, terrible dialogue and a disapointing final twist that seemed to anger most of the remaining audience I saw the film with. The pacing is also an issue, as aside from the well-done opening and a stretch leading up to the final twist, "Femme Fatale" becomes awfully tedious.

When the film wasn't providing much in the way of interest, Depalma's usual style provided some engaging moments. Working with ace French cinematographer Thierry Arbogast ("The Professional", "Kiss of the Dragon"), Depalma goes through his usual series of unexpected camera angles and inspired compositions. There's also a feel to the film - at least to me - that seemed rather 70's. Maybe it's the score, which on a couple of occasions later in the film seemed to take a bit from John Ottman's far better score for "The Usual Suspects".

Depalma may have been attempting a spin on the noir genre, but the film turned unintentionally funny on a fairly frequent basis thanks to the fact that it takes itself too seriously and never really amps up the energy level. After watching "Femme", I managed to catch its trailer, which does an incredibly good job at making it look like the intense, exciting movie it is not. I wanted to see that movie instead.

I still certainly regard Depalma as a director capable of enjoyable and occasionally masterful style, but he desperately needs to find far better material to accompany his often unexpected and interesting visuals. Here's hoping his next film is a vast improvement over his past few and a return to the kind of work he used to do.

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