An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: The Last Seduction (1994)
- Credit: Archant
Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
The Last Seduction; dir: John Dahl; starring: Linda Fiorentino, Peter Berg, JT Walsh, Bill Pullman, Bill Nunn. Cert: 18. (1994)
When John Dahl’s dark tale of greed, lust and betrayal was first released in cinemas it was sold by the marketing department, hoping for another Basic Instinct, as an erotic thriller. But, this is complex and devious than Basic Instinct and as a result more compelling. The Last Seduction really is a modern-day Film Noir.
In fact, the film is so atmospheric that you would be mistaken for thinking it was shot in black and white – it isn’t but there’s precious little colour in this twilight world of late night bars and dark alleys.
It’s a film that made a star of indie actress Linda Fiorentino as cool, chain-smoking, self-serving grifter Bridget Gregory who is aiming to do almost anything to get her hands on obscene amounts of cash.
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Bridget knows the value of sex-appeal, well lust appeal, as she cynically selects her victims, seduces them and bleeds them dry. Fiorentino, clearly knows a fantastic role when she encounters one, and has a fantastic time breathing life into this cold-hearted, amoral huckster.
Under Dahl’s careful direction she seduces the movie audience as well as her victims on screen. Her performance is mesmerising and it’s a pity that in the mainstream films which followed her discovery in The Last Seduction she was reduced to girlfriend or arm-candy roles.
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Her appearance as the pathologist in Men in Black was a complete waste of her talents. In The Last Seduction she is clearly relishing the opportunity to play someone who is more than a villain, she is a woman taking control of her life. She is a serial seducer who is enjoying the opportunity to take her revenge on her husband who made the mistake of striking her after they land a record haul of drug money.
The sharp dialogue adds to the Film Noir atmosphere. At one point she engages in a staccato exchange with her attorney: “You still a lawyer?” To which he replies “You still a self-serving bitch?” He clearly knows his client. The performances are top notch because Dahl has cast amazing actors. Bridget’s attorney is portrayed by the brilliant character actor JT Walsh who made a huge impression opposite Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men and Pleasantville.
The grimy 1940s-like atmosphere is enhanced by the fact that Fiorentino, unusually for a 1990s movie, always has a cigarette on the go. This signals to us in our health-obsessed, clean-living world that she is really beyond redemption.
Having fallen out of love with her husband, played by Bill Pullman, Bridget Gregory pitches up in a bar in Chicago and decides, cat-like, to toy and play with her clearly besotted victim the innocent-looking Peter Berg.
He has no idea of what is lying in store for him and we as an audience can’t believe that Fiorentino’s Bridget is really going to turn this essentially nice guy into an accessory to murder.
The film’s great strength is that the film seduces its audience as Bridget does the same to her hapless targets.
The script is sharp, dark and funny. The dialogue is dry as a bone and is delivered without the usual Hollywood nod and wink, intended to let us know that everything is all right, that everyone is only playing. The Last Seduction uses humour to allow us to embrace our own dark side. It allows us a taste of how enjoyable it is to play the villain.
Let’s be honest the villain is always more interesting than the hero. One of the reasons that The Last Seduction works so well is because it has two villains – Bridget and her husband Clay. Bridget has walked off with their ill-gotten gains and Clay is tracking her down. Bridget has no intention of getting caught and this is where her pawn Mike (Peter Berg) comes in.
The real achievement of The Last Seduction, apart from allowing a woman the rare opportunity to hold centrestage in a crime movie, is the fact that it holds its nerve and doesn’t attempt to ‘save her soul’ in the final reel.
In this way, this is a genuine indie-hit rather than a Hollywood movie masquerading as an indie film. There’s no moralising. Bridget Gregory remains a bad girl from beginning to end and we love her for it. After all we have been seduced and hypnotised by her and have no desire to be snapped out of it.