Probably Not The Last Seduction
| © 1995 Justin Berlin
JOHN DAHL'S LATEST AND THIRD FEATURE, THE LAST SEDUCTION, WHICH PREMIERED ON HBO BEFORE ITS THEATRICAL RELEASE, TAKES THE FEMME FATAL OF THE NOIR THRILLER GENRE AND SITUATES HER FIRMLY AND BELIEVABLY IN THE NINETIES, WILLIAM CONGREVE WROTE, HELL HATH NO "FURY LIKE A WOMAN SCORNED" (The Mourning Bride, , act I, sc. i).
In The Last Seduction, hell hath no fury like a woman unloosed. Linda Fiorentino portrays Bridget Gregory, braless career women in a loose fitting white silk shirt and black business suit who doesn't mince words. She knows what she wants and says so, except when it suits her to be more calculated.
Ms. Fiorentino plays the modern woman, with such sexy smarts and confidence that few men are likely to view her without trepidation given the current uncertainty and uneasiness surrounding male identity in this country. Out of this confusion caused by the often conflicting and polarized layers of gender posturing, rhetoric and behavioral changes, both real and perceived, that have accrued over the last 30 years, Bridget has mapped out an expanded sexuality for herself, and this makes her an exciting and dangerous challenge to the average guy's masculine identity. By the conventional male wisdom, Bridget should most satisfactorily be controlled by seduction and the resulting sexual mastery with all it's attendant glories.
That is not quite how it works out in Mr. Dahl's fully formed and brilliantly executed genre film. It is an exploration of the dark web of contemporary sexual real politic; not the roller-coaster pop-culture pastiche (read Pulp Fiction, True Romance) you'll find from the likes of Quentin Tarantino. Both Mr. Tarantino and Mr. Dahl excel in the heady tension of dangerous liaisons. Both delve into the underside of human desire at it's most elemental, base and desperate. Hardboiled dialogue and a cynical world view are starting points. While Mr. Tarantino elaborately explores the perverse details of the everyday to great effect, Mr. Dahl wraps the everyday in the force of the inevitable-a surprising and intricately propelled foreboding. Mr. Dahl's closely observed mundane details are suffused in an understated luxe style that can only lead to mayhem.
We are first introduced to Ms. Fiorentino's character via her voice over a long close-up shot which tracks across the phones and apparatus of a high pressure telemarketing office; no faces. Ms. Fiorentino's voice is that of the fast-paced task-mistress taunting and railing upon her male sales force to clinch the sale. It is a jungle of retort, baiting and pressure which is intercut with a clean-cut white guy under the Brooklyn Bridge in the midst of a big time drug deal-seemingly on the verge of going bad. This beautifully edited parallel sequence is resolved with Ms. Fiorentino, finally visible, standing over her minions and the culmination of the drug deal, which I won't give away.
BILL PULLMAN AS THE HUSBAND IN A TELLING MOMENT
This pair, wife and husband form two sides of a triangle. The husband, Clay Gregory, played by Bill Pullman, is a medical intern with med school bills outstanding and on the fast track to getting ahead. He's wary, knowing, cynical, but said yes to the drug deal anyway, if only to keep up with his fast moving wife. The film really steps into gear once Bridget splits with all the loot after a bit of business involving those Maxx sized condoms she seems to favor so much. The third side of the triangle is Mike Swale, played by Peter Berg, a decent small town guy wanting a new life somewhere else bigger and better.
LINDA FIORENTINO AS BRIDGET GREGORY ON THE MOVE
Joseph Vitarelli's excellent smoky jazz score accompanies the slow moving camera which tracks across the plaid shirted details of the bar top in our first entrance into a small town watering hole. Mr. Dahl elegantly moves us from Bridget's escape from frenetic NYC to the intimate relative innocence of small town Joe's, would-be studs and the sexy, Mike Swale, who's drawn to her sophisticated city looks and manner.
Much of the film's dark humor comes in moments like the ensuing barroom courtship filled with hardboiled lines which ring true starting with "fuck off," and escalating to more scathing rebuffs. It ends with the Mike's brazen, "I'm hung like a horse, think about it" and Bridget's even more brazen insistence on proof. Steve Barancik's script is masterful in both dialogue and structure.
BRIDGET AND HER "DESIGNATED FUCK"
The story spins more tightly as Bridget hides out from her husband. Sex with Mike is dangerous and racy, funny and plentiful. The tables are turned. It's the woman who's in control. At one point Mike stammers about the superficiality of their relationship; he feels...? She finishes his sentence, "Like a sex object." She chides him that he is after all her "designated fuck." When he avers she simply mentions something about designating someone else.
As black widow spider she sucks the life out of men caught in the puzzle of their own identity. Betrayal is an afterthought where the goal is money, freedom and mastery of our male dominated culture. There is no Thelma and Louise rape victim backstory here, although amongst her other schemes Bridget plots insurance scams on the basis of abused wives wanting to cash in on the murder of their husbands. She uses male guilt to manipulate, and as an offhand excuse for her own destructive entrepreneurial path. Her duplicity plays upon the uncertainties of the male-identity equation for all her men are worth-fulfilling her deepest desires at their expense.
BRIDGET IN A MOMENT OF REPOSE AFTER HER SUCCESSES
She takes male modes of business dominance adds her own sexual bravura and mercilessly plots her way to the top. Ms. Fiorentino's extraordinary performance beautifully personifies male fear of what women are capable of when sexually empowered and acting freely as men. In the end the men in the film have had their last seductions. For Bridget, however, it's likely that those were just a start. See the film. It`s an exhilarating, deliciously dark step into the future.
Better get used to it boys.
| Justin Berlin
all stills © October Films