Brian De Palma's back to his old tricks with this tale of a sexy female thief in Paris, which is much better than anything he's managed for years, but still quite poor as anything but glossy eye candy. He's back with the obsessions he's made his own: leering voyeuristic camera moves, long tracking shots, split screens, young model-like women in exotic lingerie, unlikely convoluted plotting, and violence, although the latter is far less extreme here than in previous films.
Laure Ash (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) double crosses her cohorts, assumes the identity of a dead French woman, and marries an American ambassador (Peter Coyote). Years later, she is obliged to return to Paris, just as the crooks she betrayed get out of prison. Paparazzi photographer Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas) blags his way into her hotel room. A brief affair follows, which involves her making him a voyeur at a biker bar, before letting him step in to save her, and have rough sex with her. Seduced into acting as an accomplice in her plan to blackmail her husband, will he pay the price if it goes wrong?
There are many plot holes here, not least the Cannes jewel heist, which opens the film with an almost wordless twenty-minute set piece that's visually inventive, but utterly illogical. Femme Fatale's story is similar to the writer/director's earlier Blow Out, where John Travolta overhears a political murder, and should logically be the story of a paparazzi who thinks he has photographed one thing, but might have seen something very different. Why Femme Fatale focuses on the woman, rather than the hero is unclear. Maybe De Palma thought that would be too obviously Hitckockian, but then he has the Laure Ash dress up as Grace Kelly, so maybe not.
But if having a femme fatale as a lead character seemed like a good twist, it fails because such characters are cyphers, and don't really exist in any true way. Additionally, the acting is poor throughout, the sole exception being Peter Coyote, who does his usual weary persona, and is as good as ever. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is TV-movie adequate, but hardly the type to make a man lose his mind. 6/10
Adrian Horrocks (January 2005)
With the Crystal Plumage
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