Until The Last Seduction was released, film noir hadn't had it so good since the 1940s. The time was ripe for a revival. But why now? Was it latter-day sexual politics and shifts in gender roles which made the figure of the femme fatale so alluring? Had our morals taken such a battering that in turn we were only able to identify with amoral characters up to their thighs in greed and debauchery? Or was it just that it was a long time since a thriller had been quite this nasty, abrasive, intelligent, and - most of all - sexy?
You're inclined to plump for the last reason. The Last Seduction draws you in the same way that its wicked heroine reels suckers and slimeballs into her life, her bed, and their doom. It is, in short, quite literally irresistible.
Bridget (Linda Fiorentino) is on the run from her husband, Clay (Bill Pullman), carrying with her a briefcase full of money from the drug deal that he masterminded. Mobsters are closing in on him for the dough he owes them, so he's understandably aggrieved to find that Bridget has scarpered, and resolves to hunt her down. It won't be easy: in little more than the time it has taken him to realise that she's done a runner, Bridget has changed her name, settled in a dusty town near Buffalo, got a job and hypnotised a local hick named Mike (Peter Berg) into being... well, her sex slave. Mike knows she's got him by the cojones but he gets a kick out her schemes, and even when he's snowballing toward hell at her behest, he's too plain dumb to see it.
Dahl made a star out of Fiorentino, who is revelatory here. And out of himself: he doesn't have the high profile of a Tarantino or Rodriguez but he has their movie love, and their appetite for jazzing up tradition.
He's a more mature film-maker too - he never opts for the quick shock when he can burn the slow fuse. That's what makes The Last Seduction so appetising: it's a film that doesn't patronise its audience, and it moves fast (very fast: crucial plot points are buried in deceptively casual chatter). Like The Grifters, it's also suspiciously amoral, but driven by a knowledge of how much fun it can be to act naughty. Wait until dark before you watch it.
Linda Fiorentino She wasn't even nominated for an Oscar for The Last Seduction, though she was most people's favourite for Best Actress (including Quentin Tarantino). The reason? An arcane rule which deemed that because The Last Seduction had been screened on cable TV before its cinema release, it wasn't eligible. She was robbed. As Bridget, she has enough voltage to light up a city, and a scalding wit to singe the eyebrows. There was something strange and exotic about her early performance as a bondage queen in Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985), but until The Last Seduction, her talent was untapped. It may stay that way now. She shouldn't have accepted the Joe Eszterhas-scripted Jade (1995), and her notices for John Dahl's new film Unforgettable have been disappointing.
Bill Pullman He looks like the nice guy next door who'd look after your pets while you pop off on holiday. But only John Dahl has exploited his darker side. Still, when he slaps Linda Fiorentino, you're not convinced - it's a dumb, impotent gesture. There's an interesting balance in his performance - he's trying to be ruthless but he's got to contend with a wife who makes him look like a small-fry. There's been little of note since: he's been used in a disappointingly banal way in Malice (1993), where he played another sucker (this time to Nicole Kidman), and Casper (1995), where he was dwarfed by special effects. But he was the best thing about While You Were Sleeping (1995): edgy and cynical, he sweetly offset Sandra Bullock's ingratiating kook.
John Dahl He might be the Oasis of the movie world - a man so consumed by admiration for the art that he grew up on that he devotes his entire career to paying homage. Luckily, there's some breathing space. For Dahl doesn't just inhabit the world of noir, he tweaks and toys with it, and brings a parched humour worthy of The Big Sleep. He was building up to The Last Seduction. His first film, Kill Me Again, was shapeless and pretty banal, but the follow-up, Red Rock West, foxed all expectations and led audiences up the garden path and back. Both these are modern noirs. His new film, Unforgettable, with Ray Liotta and Linda Fiorentino, is less indebted to that genre. American critics have slaughtered it.
Peter Berg Berg's character, Mike, is never quite sure of anything, least of all his relationship with Bridget, who becomes his puppeteer. Berg is good at playing dense, though his vulnerability and dented machismo have never been exposed as plainly as they are here. He's mostly been lumbered with thankless roles in thankless films - like Late for Dinner, where he was time-travelling via cryogenics; or Fire in the Sky, a UFO mystery. When the actor Keith Gordon directed the poignant Second World War drama A Midnight Clear, he knew what he had in Berg: after all, the man looks like a sitting duck, and he's the perfect symbol for innocence. You despair of him, and warm to him, the big lug.
JT Walsh Walsh is everywhere, the ultimate backroom boy. He's also the best of American character actors, along with James Woods, Will Patton and M Emmet Walsh. He has nasty eyes, so when he turned up as an amiable cop in last year's Silent Fall, it just didn't work. He's better throwing his weight around in House of Games (1987) and The Grifters (1990), and bringing extra wickedness to John Dahl's other terrific modern noir, Red Rock West (1993), where he hired a hitman to bump off his wife. In his stubborn cameo in The Last Seduction, he economically manages to suggest that he is the only man fit to tame Fiorentino. Walsh is currently sliming around in Oliver Stone's Nixon.
Film noir Did John Dahl suspect that The Last Seduction would spark a revival in film noir? His film has all the bristling sensuality of Gilda, the sharp wordplay of The Big Sleep (see left). By the time that it had been released worldwide, and then did roaring business on video, a series of new takes on noirish themes were slowly filtering through. Tarantino had his imitators, but Dahl was
somewhat luckier - he had actually inspired, rather than fuelled, his peers. The Usual Suspects, Devil in a Blue Dress and Seven were with us in quick succession. None of them bare any resemblance to The Last Seduction but they all owe Dahl something that is intangible, as Dahl does to the heyday of film noir.
THE LAST SEDUCTION
1993, 110 minutes, US
Producer Photographer Film editor
Screenplay Music Production director
Bridget Gregory Mike Swale Clay Gregory Frank Griffith Harlan Public defender
John Dahl Jonathan Shestak Jeff Jur
Eric L Beason
JT Walsh Bill Nunn Jack Shearer
Brien Varady Donna Wilson
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