|Written by Mel Odom|
|Saturday, 01 September 2007|
“Cruel Intentions” is new look at an old story. Based on the often-filmed novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” by Choderlos de Laclos, Roger Kumble’s direction and scriptwriting lean heavily on similar the period-piece movies of the past. The final delivery in this movie is a strange and twisted mix of the old and the new. What Kumble ends up with is a modern-looking teen angst/vengeance story that feels a lot like a war of social manners.
Stylistically, the movie looks great. The high-definition treatment of the Blu-ray disc brings that look forward into sharp focus. The metropolitan look of the streets and buildings carries a lot of weight throughout the story, just as the manor houses with acres of landscaping do outside the city. The viewer never forgets where he is or what’s at stake.
The soundtrack is in uncompressed format and comes through a surround sound system with amazing clarity and a lot of power. The music is good and the background noises are sharp, yet neither steps on the dialogue.
The plot is very linear, but the twists are vicious. The movie turns out to be appropriately named in many respects. Sarah Michelle Gellar stars as Kathryn Merteuil, a manipulative daughter of a wealthy New York family. She crashes relationships and ruins reputations as well as social standing for kicks, just to provide herself some amusement and diversion. The character is a far cry from her portrayal as heroine Buffy Summers in the television series that gained her international recognition. The fact that Gellar masters the role with such ease is a little unsettling to fans that could never see her as anything other than the vampire slayer.
There was always something sexual about Buffy Summers, but it was subdued, innocent, and virginal--until she got involved with Spike, of course. As Kathryn, Gellar is definitely the femme fatale and sex is her chosen weapon. She looks great, wearing clothes that are extremely revealing. And she looks incredibly comfortable, while the racy dialogue comes naturally to her. The mind-blowing kiss sequence between Gellar and Selma Blair actually won an award from MTV.
Catherine and her stepbrother Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) constantly push each other to do their very worst to other people. The sexual chemistry between them is electric and consumes everything going on in the movie when it flares up. Although they are not related by blood, the hint of incest hangs heavily in the air. Viewers aren’t given enough background about the two characters to know how long they’ve been stepbrother and stepsister, so how deeply the incest runs is questionable. Still, it’s part of the mystique of the characters and the movie.
Ryan Phillippe swaggers across the screen with arrogant confidence, a total natural in this role. Everything he does, from driving the car, to ignoring those he believes are insignificant, to his delivery of dialogue, makes the viewer hate him. A kind of redemption and loss regarding his character is supposed to be reached by the end of the film, but I never once warmed up to him or felt any kind of empathy. But it wasn’t from Phillippe’s lack of acting ability—he’s great in the role and made me curious about watching him in something else. A quick look through his resume proves that I have seen in other films. However, he wasn’t memorable to me. But I will never forget him as Sebastian Valmont.
After Sebastian’s latest triumph, he returns home to talk to Kathryn. She’s steamed about losing her latest boyfriend to Cecile (Selma Blair), a virginal young girl who Kathryn sees as an inferior. Kathryn wants Sebastian to seduce Cecile and break her heart as an act of revenge. Sebastian refuses, which angers Kathryn. Instead, Sebastian says he intends to bed Annette (Reese Witherspoon), a self-proclaimed virgin who doesn’t plan to have sex until she’s married. Annette is also the daughter of the man who’s going to be the school’s new headmaster. That puts her within Sebastian’s reach.
Kathryn quickly seizes the moment to make a wager with Sebastian. She bets her body, because she is the only woman Sebastian has never been able to sexually possess, against his 1956 Jaguar that he’s unsuccessful in his latest endeavor. After a bit of provocative dialogue that bumps the stakes up, both parties agree to the wager. One thing that stands out, though, is that the Jaguar isn’t Sebastian’s most prized possession—that’s his journal of his conquests. Kathryn tries repeatedly to see the journal, but Sebastian won’t let her. That would have seemed to be a better item to gamble, but the journal is used later to solve another plot twist.
Reese Witherspoon doesn’t really have to do much in this role. With her blond hair and good looks, she practically walks through the scenes and the dialogue as if they were the most natural things in the world. There’s no deep characterization here, and it’s not necessary. She’s the prize in the game that Sebastian and Kathryn are playing.
Selma Blair has some really comic moments, but they’re very far apart in the film. And she’s able to play wide-eyed innocence with the best of them. Her performance was well done and realistic.
Joshua Jackson stars as Blaine Tuttle, Sebastian’s gay friend. No explanation is given how these two met or became friends. The scene in which Blaine is weighing out marijuana leaves the viewers to believe he’s a drug dealer. If so, then he would be seen as plebeian and he wouldn’t be Sebastian’s friend. Blaine is introduced and used for a few scenes that don’t go anywhere and serve only as obvious advances to the plot.
Eric Mabius portrays Greg, whose homosexuality is used against him by Sebastian. This is another small, almost throwaway, role that seems to manifest only because the plot needs advancing.
Sean Patrick Thomas is served a little meatier role as Ronald, Cecile’s music instructor and later boyfriend. At least he’s around a little more, even though he doesn’t carry much weight in the overall scheme of things. Even when he’s there at the dramatic resolution, the ending seems contrived and too forced to work well.
The special features included on the disc are interesting. They give some insight into the director’s mind and offer some discussion of previous portrayals of this kind of material. But the added value overall is lean because both of the features concentrate on selling the movie rather than adding more impact.
Even though the movie seems to have been well received among the teen crowd, adult viewers are not going care much for this one. It’s like too many other films they’ve seen. Gellar brings a certain newness to the role in the movie as a sexual vamp and gives her fans a chance to see her in a totally different role than she’s portrayed in either Buffy for the Scooby-Doo franchise.
“Cruel Intentions” is worth a look because most film watchers haven’t seen these actors in these roles, and the director’s view does offer some new takes on old material. Otherwise only diehard teen movie watchers or fans need to pick this one up.