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Femme Fatale

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Femme Fatale
from Film Forum, 11/14/02

Femme Fatale is the latest "erotic thriller" from the famous "Hitchcockian" director Brian De Palma. This film, which involves a beautiful and mysterious woman who tries to conceal her identity in order to hide from her enemies, is gaining high praise from De Palma fans for its style. But others, especially religious press critics, find it ludicrous and empty.

Gerri Pare (Catholic News) says the film is an "empty exercise in voyeurism. Ultimately there are too many characterization loose ends and not enough substance to his truncated story. A more recent generation of filmmakers has unfortunately surpassed De Palma in terms of violence and shock factor, so his trademark endings no longer come as a surprise, even if we still never quite know how things will turn out."

Phil Boatwright says, "De Palma is renown for imitating the Hitchcock method. Sometimes it works … sometimes it doesn't. With Femme Fatale, it works and it doesn't. Everything about the film seems repetitious, taking plot devices from past TV shows and films. The style suddenly is no longer an homage, but rather a rip-off. It does have a mesmerizing style but it is not a film you'll learn something from, nor will it elevate your spiritual growth."

Movieguide's critic calls it "a vile, slow-moving, confused, strange, artsy film … disjointed and slow-moving in many spots, and the protagonist is not even likeable."

Mainstream critics argued intensely over the film, some praising De Palma's style while others bemoaned its lack of substance. Sean Axmaker (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) says "If there was any question before, Femme Fatale is proof that, when unleashed, Brian De Palma is utterly mad: cinema mad, set-piece mad, style mad. It's a beautiful madness. It's hard to call it thrilling—these aren't characters you actually care about and De Palma isn't as concerned with building tension as playing visual games—but it sure sparkles."

Owen Glieberman (Entertainment Weekly) rants, "If you look hard, you can make out a story in Femme Fatale, but it has nothing to do with the senseless pileup of jewel thievery, shutterbug voyeurism, and leggy sex bombs so shallow and bad they seem to have come out of a 1978 copy of Hustler magazine. No, the story the movie tells is of Brian De Palma's addiction to the junk-calorie suspense tropes that have all but ruined his career. Once good (Scarface), even great (Carrie), he has become a director content to let his camera go through the motions."