Drama (US); 1999;
Rated R; 90 Minutes
Sarah Michele Gellar: Kathryn Merteul-Valmont
Ryan Phillipe: Sebastian Valmont
Reese Witherspoon: Annette Hargrove
Selma Blair: Cecile Caldwell
Joshua Jackson: Blaine Tuttle
Chris J. Ball, Michael Fottrel, Bruce Mellon, Neal H. Morritz,
William Tyer and Heather Zeegen; Directed and screenwritten
by Roger Kumble; suggested by "Les Liasons Dangereuses"
by Choderlos de Laclos
by DAVID KEYES
you want to truly understand something, try to change it."
Kumble feels the same way as Kurt Lewis, and that's apparent
in his "suggested" adaptation of "Les Liasons Dangereuses,"
a story which, though popular with most literature buffs,
is arguably one of the most difficult literary works to
tackle. And what's difficult for literature is also difficult
for the movies, because when people try to 'faithfully adapt'
such stories, the plot often gets suffocated behind costumes
and sets. In the late 1980s, filmmakers made "Dangerous
Liasons," a forgettable and downright dull 'adaptation'
of the famous piece of literature we speak of. The recreation
of the classic starred, among others, John Malkovich, Glenn
Close, Michele Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman, as high-class civilians
who were dragged into a complex web of seduction and betrayal.
The story's movement from one act to the next took away
the passion that the literature had, and crumbled under
the mass of its dead characterization. Some call the film
"a contemporary classic," or even a "masterpiece," but the
film is clear evidence that faithful adaptations can be
more like faithful rip-offs.
but with "Cruel Intentions," the filmmakers prove that,
if lightning should strike in the same place twice, each
strike has to have a different force of impact. This is
a movie that is merely 'suggested' by the "Dangerous Liasons"
material because, in truth, it's a modernization of the
story, using the same basic themes but with different style
and movement. In other words, it uses the music, but not
if you don't understand something like the Laclos story,
the best way to truly grasp it is to change it. Depending
on how the modernization strays from the actual context,
the change can be either great or hideous. Take the 'modernization'
of "Romeo & Juliet," for example, which is one of the worst
films of the decade. There, the characters fell in love
and had the same urges as in Shakespeare's play, but it
over-exercised the use of Shakespeare's language, until
the whole concept lost its edge and became more stale than
the average rice cake. "Cruel Intentions" falls more on
the great side, although one can't help but admit, there's
a few stumbles along the way.
film stars Sarah Michele Gellar, as a high-class snob (AKA
modern teenager) whose loss of a boyfriend to the vixen
Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair) prompts her to seek a sexual
revenge, so to speak. She confides in her stepbrother Sebastian
(Ryan Phillipe) that, in order to turn Cecile into the slut
that they think she is, he has to seduce her. In addition
to that, she strikes a deal with him, claiming that, if
he can also seduce the "pure" Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon),
he and she can take their obsession with each other to the
physical side. Sex is merely a form of manipulation to these
people, and they use it any way they can.
whole story is a sexual escape for the characters, and it's
more or less a reality escape for us, the viewers, because
we know that, if people are really like this, they have
to come from stories, because real-life sexual situations
don't get this complicated or ridiculous. Ryan Phillipe,
the most 'sexual' person in the movie, gives a strong performance
as the suave and viscous animal Sebastian, who slowly lets
obsession take over his life. Sarah Michelle Gellar as his
stepsister is equally as good, although she's found much
better roles, like the one in "Simply Irresistible" from
earlier this year. Both Gellar and Phillipe, of course,
costarred in the movie "I Know What You Did Last Summer,"
but here, they get to develop an intriguing chemistry together.
They obviously want more to do with each other than just
being step-siblings, but they hold us at bay, and don't
give in to the feelings until, naturally, the bet has been
achieved. Whether or not it gets that far is redundant to
the plot and to the viewers reaction; we know how they feel,
and that's all that matters. The sex is merely a backdrop
for their high-class, rudely luxurious lives, as if the
filmmaker simply wants to add in outrageousness in the whole
concept to carry over a modern feel. There was, of course,
sex in "Dangerous Liasons," but those people were adults,
as the ones in "Cruel Intentions" are teenagers. The sexual
escapades obviously change, and feel 'modernized' a bit.
if the movie has weaknesses, they belong to the one-dimensional
characteristics of Witherspoon's character, who has morals,
of course, but isn't strong enough to ensure stableness
in those morals. The humor degrading "queers," or "homos,"
is relentless and crude. This is supposed to be (in ways)
a comedy, but it's not funny so much as it is dramatic.
You have great interaction between characters, and the use
of sex as the plot of downfall, but sometimes, they are
taken to far and too over the top. You don't feel like these
things should be happening, even to characters as morally
grotesque as these.
if there's one thing the movie doesn't screw up, it's the
messages involving the deceit and obsession surrounding
a little game called sex. It allows us to understand the
material in ways that we couldn't understand it before.
The themes are intact, and for some fans of the original
story, that should be all that matters.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.