France before 1789: When a widow hears that her lover is to marry her cousin's daughter, she asks the playboy Valmont to take the girl's virginity. But first she bets him, with her body as prize, to seduce a virtuous, young, married woman.
In 18th century France, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont play a dangerous game of seduction. Valmont is someone who measures success by the number of his conquests and Merteuil challenges him to seduce the soon to be married Cecile de Volanges and provide proof in writing of his success. His reward for doing so will be to spend the night with Merteuil. He has little difficulty seducing Cecile but what he really wants is to seduce Madame de Tourvel. When Merteuil learns that he has actually fallen in love with her, she refuses to let him claim his reward for seducing Cecile. Death soon follows.Written by
In Madame de Rosemonde's garden, Valmont sits behind Madame de Tourvel and asks "Why are you so angry with me?" The camera then cuts to a close-up of Tourvel's face, and Valmont is sitting much closer behind her. See more »
A lavish and superbly cruel film that easily engages with a strong story, great characters and strong performances
The Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil is a harsh and cold woman who views other women as her rivals as clearly as she holds them publicly close as friends. Victomte Sebastien de Valmont is equally out for the destruction of women but does so by seducing and destroying them. Merteuil turns to Valmont to seduce the chaste Cecile de Volanges, thus destroying her marriage but Valmont cannot help and feel that it is all too easy and instead wagers sex with Merteuil against him being able to seduce the notoriously moral Marie de Tourvel.
While children flock to the infinitely inferior Cruel Intentions, the viewer of more discerning taste will always stick with this classy, rich and enjoyable version of Dangerous Liaisons. The plot can be summarised simply but has several strong threads running together to create an involving game of seduction and cruelty. The say the film is nasty and cruel is to perhaps not stress highly enough how enjoyable it is for being so; it is done with such a taste for it that it makes it engaging while also being repulsive in the depths the games go to. It develops very satisfyingly and I easily found myself drawn into it. It is to the credit of Hampton's script that I found the characters both horrible but yet also engaging unlike Cruel Intentions where I just hated their vacuous selfishness and couldn't barely bring myself to care about them enough to even dislike them. No, with DL the characters are much stronger and much more appealing while simultaneously managing to be cruel and repulsive.
The cast rise to the material and I'm hard pressed to think of a similarly starry cast where all involved turn in such rich performances. Close is maybe not the most obvious of roles but she is all the better for it, turning in one of the most deliciously scheming and cruel characters I can recall seeing. With the excesses it is to her credit that she is so subtle and restrained for the majority. Malkovich has more fun with a showier character and makes it look easy where really it is challenging to play such an anti-hero and keep the audience onside while also pushing them away. Although these two make up the majority of the film, the smaller roles are also very well filled. Pfeiffer is brilliant; Thurman gets the mix of innocence and sexuality just right and Reeves is, well, not rubbish. I refrain from giving any credit to Kurtz simply because I think she lost whatever she was due by appearing in the same role in the MTV remake. Frears' direction is great and he makes good use of close-ups and other reoccurring techniques; he is well supported by his costume and set designers who combine to produce a tangible sense of time and place that is befitting the lavish feel of the whole film.
Overall this is a fine film that is driven by so many factors that it is hard to pin down just one. The script is well written and produces an engaging and tasty plot for adults to get into. The characters are both engaging and repulsive and are well delivered by a cast that give roundly strong performances. All this comes together to produce a fantastically cruel film that just shows how poor Cruel Intentions was and what an insult to the intelligence it is.
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