Bucket List Movie #437: The Last Seduction (1994)
It is a delicate art to make us root for someone who is pure evil. John Dahl (Rounders, Joy Ride) accomplished this impressive task quite admirably in the 1994 film noir The Last Seduction, and, I have to say, he would have made the likes of Billy Wilder and Orson Welles proud. Though 1992 gave us Basic Instinct, a tawdry thriller featuring Sharon Stone’s irresistible she-devil Catherine Trammell, it seems the world wasn’t ready for another movie featuring a woman who needs morals like dogs need fleas. The Last Seduction was first shown on HBO, then was released in theaters (oddly enough, Dahl’s previous film, Red Rock West, suffered a similar fate). As a result, it was snubbed at Oscar time. Pity, because, aside from the seamless direction and screenplay, our femme fatale, Bridget Gregory, belongs in the same league as Phyllis Dietrichson from Double Indemnity and Matty Walker from Body Heat.
Bridget (Linda Fiorentino) is a raven-haired, no-nonsense city gal who is married to a seedy, somewhat hapless drug dealer, Clay (Bill Pullman). Clay scores $700,000 in a drug deal, and Bridget thanks him by picking a fight with him, causing him to slap her. We quickly learn that a cartographer couldn’t have mapped this out better, for Bridget hightails it with the money, and immediately seeks a divorce from her “abusive” husband. On the way from New York to Chicago, Bridget gets stranded in a sleepy, dull-as-tombs small town. I couldn’t help but be tickled by the fact that Bridget flatly refuses to be enchanted by the town or the people. When a group of locals randomly greet her, she simply ignores them, her boredom and contempt apparent to us, but not them. One night, at a bar, she meets Mike (Peter Berg, who I almost mistook for Judge Reinhold), a soon-to-be divorcee who is instantly smitten with Bridget, and tries to pick her up by bragging about... the thing most men tend to brag about. In a scene that's now legendary, Bridget calls him out in a humiliating fashion, but that doesn’t stop him from entering a masochistic relationship with her. Poor, stupid Mike all but has “patsy” tattooed all over his body, and since Clay is on Bridget’s tail, she has the perfect man to help her get him out of the way once and for all...
Tiresome Trivia for the Day: Hey, Breaking Bad fans! Spot the Dean Norris in the bar scene!
Another reason this story works is that, like Double Indemnity and Body Heat, Bridget is surrounded by people little better than her. Clay is a scummy drug dealer who’s probably capable of God knows what else. Even more interesting (and frustrating) is Mike. Ostensibly a nice guy, we quickly see that he is a parody of the de-fanged man of the 90s: a spineless, irresponsible twit who knows his nether-regions better than his own mind (even that's doubtful), and we soon learn that he has a skeleton or two in his closet. Bridget may be rotten to the core, but she's intelligent and cultured, and considering that she’s surrounded by such coarse, gullible men, is it any wonder we get a thrill from rooting for her?
This brings me to Linda Fiorentino: what the hell happened? She didn’t drop off the face of the earth, per se, but her career certainly didn’t get launched into the heavens the way it should have. A charismatic actress with a natural acting style and dark good looks, she appeared in her share of acclaimed films, such as After Hours, Men in Black, and Dogma. If IMDb is to be believed, she hasn’t been in anything since 2009. But, as Madeline Stowe’s career was revitalized by the Spelling-esque drama Revenge, perhaps a popular TV series is just what Fiorentino needs, because she is an incredible actress, and The Last Seduction is the ultimate showcase for her. She plunges into playing a woman who has arsenic in her soul, and loves every moment of it. Clearly channelling Barbara Stanwyck at her most wicked, Bridget is always 3 steps ahead of everyone else, and uses every trick of the femme fatale trade: theft, duplicity, blackmail, and, naturally, seduction. She never allows her icy heart to thaw, and thank goodness for that.
The screenplay never wimps out or cops out, and it treats its audience with respect. If Basic Instinct played on men’s fear of strong women, then The Last Seduction plays on their fear of themselves, for being too weak to handle a woman like Bridget. I must also give kudos to the supporting men. Bill Pullman, who I always thought resembled a beleaguered Michael Douglas, is great fun as the weaselly Clay, and I like to think this role prevented him from becoming the 90s equivalent of Ralph Bellamy. You know, the poor schmuck who is doomed to lose the girl in the end. Okay, he is a poor schmuck and he kind of loses the girl, but… watch the movie and you’ll see. Peter Berg has the difficult role of Mike, who is that most maddening creature, the willing victim. Bridget is bad news, he knows she's bad news, but he goes along because he’s an idiot. Sorry, there’s no nice way of saying it. He has that unfortunate belief that his love can "save" her. He’s such a fool that it’s impossible to feel sorry for him. Still, Berg plays his part exceptionally well, which is never easy for a role this thankless.
We all know actors prefer playing baddies, and who can blame them? It’s fun because you get to do the terrible things our better impulses prevent us from doing. When I was younger, I dreamed of playing, not Cinderella, but one of the wicked stepsisters. At the same time, it makes me wish there were more roles featuring women on the side of good who easily outsmart men. But, considering we live in a world where a movie version of Wonder Woman still hasn’t happened, where Black Widow is still just a supporting player, we can at least indulge in our dark side with films like The Last Seduction.