Sunday, October 9, 2011

To Die For

By s. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , ,
(106 min, 1995)
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Joyce Maynard (book), Buck Henry (screenplay)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon and Joaquin Phoenix

All she wanted was a little attention.

“You're not anybody in America unless you're on TV. On TV is where we learn about who we really are. Because what's the point of doing anything worthwhile if nobody's watching? And if people are watching, it makes you a better person.“

Suzanne Stone Maretto (Nicole Kidman) knows exactly what she wants. She wants to be a television newscaster and she is willing to do ANYTHING to get what she wants. What she lacks in intelligence, she makes up for in cold determination and diabolical wiles. As she pursues her goal with relentless focus, she is forced to destroy anything and anyone that may stand in her way, regardless of the ultimate cost or means necessary.

I like when the events behind the movie mirror the story we see in it. After reading the script, Nicole Kidman was so determined to land the lead role in this movie that she tracked down Gus van Sant's personal phone number and rung him at home. She spent 40 minutes talking to him on the phone about her thoughts on Suzanne and how to play her. Van Sant called back 2 hours later to tell her she'd got the part. It's funny that she actually had to fight for that role (Meg Ryan turned down the movie after she wasn't happy with the salary offer) - in the novel on which the movie is based, Suzanne states that she would like to see "that actress that just got married to Tom Cruise in real life" play her in a movie about this. Kidman who, sadly, has her best roles behind her nowadays (apart from her recent good work in “Rabbit Hole”) delivers one of her best performances here. Channeling a bit of Catherine Deneuve in “Belle de Jour” she is icy, fascinating and reserved. But since “To die for” is a dark comedy Kidman manages to make her character adorably silly and devilish. She may look sweet and innocent, but this girl with serious look in her eyes has a plan on how to get what she wants. No matter what.

Here is a woman, possessed with the idea of being famous and appearing on television. Her whole life is dedicated to achieving that goal. She even marries a guy she doesn't love (Suzanne is too involved with her career to develop actual feelings towards anyone, except for her dog Walter), only to provide desirable background for her, carefully planned and created celebrity persona. Suzanne always behaves as if someone was watching her, as if the spotlight was on her – even on her wedding day, when already all the eyes are directed at her, she whispers sweet, overly melodramatic words to her father's ear which is met by his astonishment. Although having done terrible things, things that she would surely prefer to remain a secret, Suzanne kept acting as if the camera was always on her. She doesn't have any rules or any scruples. All she has is her determination.

The movie has great cast that surrounds Kidman's astonishing performance - Joaquin Phoenix Cassey Affleck, Matt Dillon and fantastic Illeana Douglas. Even David Cronenberg makes a quick, but memorable cameo. Phoenix is adorable as a kid madly in love with “Miss Marreto”, Affleck plays teenage wannabe bad ass convincingly, Dillon is perfect, dumb, love-struck husband. Douglas, who is not nearly enough on screen from many years now, delivers the second strongest performance in the movie. She's simply triumphant in the ending. But it is Kidman who steals the show – she has created wonderful performances in “Moulin Rouge!”, “The Others” and “The Hours” but her performance in “To die for” is truly hers – only she could play that role. Actress who, for years, has been perceived as an icon of class and elegance and icy, classic beauty. Woman who always seemed too magnificent to be ordinary person. She was simply born for greatness.

The movie's biggest asset apart from Kidman's role is the humor – from fantastic dialogues to amusing use of music. Danny Elfman's score with a lot of magical, whimsical, Burton's movies style music mixes with loud, heavy metal as Suzanne walks to claim her fame, in her colorful, elegant two-piece dress, with wind barely even moving her perfect hair. And most important with the look of – almost frightening – confidence on her face. The movie contains whole series of amazing scenes, but the one that stands out is when we hear national anthem of United States playing in the background as Suzanne finally gets what she wants. Interestingly enough, although the movie deals with the desire for glamor, it is not flashy or beautifully shot. It's Gus Van Sant's movie and it's kept in the similar tone as his other films – hand held camera, no fireworks, non linear narration, everything looking so normal and plain. And here, to this simple world that is around me or you comes this bizarre, driven girl. Suzanne is almost like fantasy element in this movie – her confidence, her blue eyes, her beauty – everything seems almost unreal. She operates outside the normal moral guidelines, she doesn't need anybody to feel complete or whole. All she needs is to be seen. Preferably around the globe, during prime time.


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