Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Rating: A

Dir: Stephen Frears
Star: Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman

The devil finds work for idle hands, they say. And in pre-revolutionary France, they didn’t come much more idle – or devilish – than the Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) and her on again, off again partner, the Vicomte de Valmont (Malkovich). They spend their time scheming how to bring down their chosen targets, whether it’s people who have wronged them or simply those who present a challenge, using deceit, moral corruption and a predatory ability to sense weakness. Why? Because they can. However, Valmont may just have met his match in Madame de Tourvel (Pfeiffer), a woman of impeccable virtue whom he has selected as his next target. Will he succeed in bringing her down to his level, or will his pretense at true love turn into the real thing? And how does this affect de Merteuil’s own plans for revenge on a lover who scorned her?

Close and Malkovich are both magnificent, barely bothering to mask the contempt they feel for the rest of the world with polite affectation: their smiles are those of tigers, or perhaps, sharks. As the Marquise responds when Valmont says he thought ‘betrayal’ was her favourite word: “No, no… ‘Cruelty.’ I always think that has a nobler ring to it.” Sheesh. Still, part of you has to admire the way they manipulate people into doing their bidding, even as you appreciate the intense callousness behind it, and wonder what might happen if all that effort was turned to more noble ends. The supporting cast is solid, with even Keanu Reeves holding his end up, and not reminding us of Bill and Ted or The Matrix too much. It’s a love story, and with all the pretty costumes could easily be mistaken for a chick flick. Emphasis on ‘mistaken,’ for this is malicious, capricious, vicious and delicious.

What we said then [very much under-rating the film and not doing it justice, I have to say…] [3] Trash City reviewing an Oscar winner? After last time, with The Accused, this might be a surprise, so to retain street-cred, I’ll claim I only went because Uma Thurman was in it. However, it is a damn good film – Dynasty in pre-revolution France (John Malkovich’s accent being more Brooklyn than Bordeaux), with lots of intrigue, plus an approach which is occasionally surprisingly trashy (helped by Peter Capaldi). And Uma Thurmann is very cute! 8/10.