In the 1990s John Dahl directed three ‘neo-noir’ films – modern reworkings of the classic film noir sub-genre originally popularised by films like Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep. The first two of these, Kill Me Again and Red Rock West, were cool, stylised tributes to a genre Dahl clearly loved. The Last Seduction did something different.
It was two years after the release of Basic Instinct and seeing that not only does sex sell, it sells very well indeed, Hollywood was clamouring for similar properties. Hence The Last Seduction was born from exactly the same circumstances as the best examples of early film noir; it was the product of a minor production company responding to a demand, but the creative team had other ideas. Given limited resources Dahl, along with writer Steve Barancik and an amazing cast, created a seminal and transcendent work that still stands out today.
The plot follows Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino), a money-driven, power-hungry telemarketer who steals a millions dollars from her husband (Bill Pullman) then hides out in a small country town. There she meets Mike (Peter Berg) and in him she sees an opportunity to escape her vengeful husband and put everything right, although there will be a few casualties along the way.
The character of Bridget Gregory is what makes this film work, and while she appears to be simply the classic femme fatale turned up to eleven there’s actually something much more complex taking place on screen. The three main players, Dahl, Barancik and Fiorentino, pull off an incredible magic trick with this character. They make you care about someone who lacks a single redeeming feature. Bridget is the definition of cold and calculating. Watching the film now, over twenty years after it’s first release, it’s still striking how rare a character like Bridget is, and her attitude, dialogue and general demeanour in the opening scenes remain as jarring as they did twenty years ago. When she isn’t scheming, she’s playing a part and at no point does she show anything an audience member can remotely sympathise with or that even resembles human behaviour. This is what makes it work. Because we’re never asked to sympathise with Bridget we go along with her and despite the insidious nature of her plan, we want her to succeed. Added to this is the fact that she’s always two steps ahead of the characters in the film and at least one step ahead of the audience. We want to find out how she’s going to pull this off.
The supporting cast also do an excellent job, with Pullman managing to make his jilted husband character less sympathetic not through his aggression but by virtue of the joy he takes from tracking Bridget down. Berg’s performance as Mike really holds the film together as the only sympathetic character in the story, and yet he plays it with enough shades of darkness and ambiguity to stop it from making Bridget seem entirely heartless. The film is also a great example of economic storytelling, with much of the action taking place in a handful of locations (a bar, a house, an apartment) without ever feeling like we’re losing anything because of it.
The Last Seduction is not the best looking blu-ray in the world but it’s likely the best quality presentation this film has ever had and a great job has been done with the sound. There are a number of extras including a 30 minute documentary with a mix of new and archive interviews that really give an insight into how this film came about. This includes some fascinating stories about how Dahl, Barancik and the cast were secretly trying to make an art film whilst making the producers think they were making their seedy sexploitation film as requested, and how they ultimately got away with it. All that is a bonus, but if you’ve never seen this film or even if you have and maybe haven’t revisited it in a while then this is definitely worth checking out. The Last Seduction remains a smart, groundbreaking thriller that still stands out as one of the best in its genre with perhaps the greatest film noir ending of all time.
The Last Seduction is being released on Blu-Ray in the UK by Network on 26th January.
Review by Chris Regan