Friday, April 11, 2008

Obscure Movie of The Week: The Last Seduction (1994)

No, it's not THAT obscure, but on my Top 5 list of all-time favorite movies, this one has a permanent spot. And before diving into a movie that features one of the most unforgettable performances by a female, there's some necessary background as to how this thing almost became very obscure. The Last Seduction couldn't find a distributor when it made the film festival circuit back in 1994, and instead wound up playing on HBO (late at night no less, and remember, this was when HBO wasn't a big player, this was still five years before The Sopranos or Sex and The City) a few times before unprecedented critical acclaim -- especially for star Linda Fiorentino's marvel of a performance -- gave the movie a small run in theaters. And if you haven't seen it yet, by all means, stop reading and rent the DVD, Netflix it or whatever you need to do, because really you're better off not knowing anything about the film before you see it.

I was one of the few to actually get a chance to see it in a theater (at the Mary Riepma Ross Theatre in Lincoln no less, it wasn't playing anywhere else), and at the time, I couldn't quite figure out who Linda Fiorentino was. She looked familiar enough, but it seemed like she came from out of nowhere. It wasn't until the movie was out on video and DVD and cable again that I realized it: She was the love interest from Vision Quest! She's a long way from Matthew Modine here. Fiorentino plays Bridget Gregory, who we soon learn is wickedly smart to the point that she takes pride in getting the best of all the silly men in her life, starting with her husband Clay (played by Bill Pullman, in one of his better oles). Clay seems to think he can do his best to keep up with Bridget, and even though they're cut from the same cloth, she's always a step ahead. She convinces Clay, who's a doctor, to illegally sell some prescription drugs for a big score. But you don't piss someone like Bridget off, which Clay does by slapping her when she makes fun of him for almost blowing the deal. That's all our girl needs to sneak off with the money and head the sleepy little small town of Beston, NY to hide for a while.

But it's in Beston where we see Bridget start to work out a plan to get away with everything. She's approached at a bar by a local yokel named Mike (Peter Berg), who seems to just be looking for a way out of Hicksville. He hits on Bridget by bragging about being "hung like a horse" only to have Bridget immediately demand to see if he's telling the truth, right at the table. She takes a look and feels the goods for herself, as she's just realized she's found the guy dumb enough to fall for her evil ways:

Mike Swale: I'm trying to figure out whether you're a total fucking bitch or not.
Bridget Gregory: I am a total fucking bitch.

Sure she is, but she's also miles ahead of everyone else. The great thing about the movie and Fiorentino's role in particular is just seeing how easy it is for her to manipulate those around her. Because Bridget Gregory is always out thinking the room, even when she screws up (not badly) by changing her name to Wendy Kroy (a play on New York spelled backwards, even though her husband knows she has a "thing" for manipulation by doing just that sort of thing with words). So Mike knows Bridget only as Wendy, and eventually Clay figures out she's in some small town using Wendy Kroy as her alias. But no worries for our gal, because her master plan is in motion, and she can audible and throw smoke like nobody else when she needs to.

You never feel sorry for Mike (Peter Berg must have grown up in a town that size because he nails the performance of a clueless small town boy who dreams of hitting the big city) due to the fact that he's having this incredible sex with Bridget/Wendy (up against a fence no less, and yes Bridget/Wendy can fake some seriously incredible orgasms), but he really is as dumb as a bag of hammers. And Bridget has him all figured out, knowing exactly how he'll react to anything. In fact, she's downright bored with him. There's a scene where Mike goes back to their bar (alone, because Bridget's in Miami, or so Mike thinks) to have a drink. One of his friends comes up to let him know that his "girlfriend" came on to him the other night and gave him head. So of course Mike goes nuts and hits the guy. But the beauty of that whole scene is that either Bridget convinced the guy to say that to Mike to rile him up...or she really DID give the guy a blow job? I believe the latter because it's right in-line with her character, and in a way it's a backup for somebody like Bridget in case Mike can't follow through on her final detail.

Mike: "What if I want to be more than your designated fuck?"
Bridget/Wendy: "Then I'll find a replacement."

After the fight in the bar, Mike drunkenly calls Bridget's answering machine, pouring his heart out. Unbeknonwnst to him, Bridget is just lying next to the machine, rolling her eyes at everything he says. But again, she knows there's more to come. Since Mike thinks "Wendy" is in Miami, our girl wisely figures his drunk ass will come over to her house to erase the drunken message. Of COURSE she's right, so she plays even more: She doodles some love notes about how "Wendy" is madly in love with Mike, and sets them right next to the answering machine. So when Mike, just like it was scripted in her mind, comes over to erase the message, he immediately sees the love note and takes it with him, giving him peace of mind that he's finally winning her over. But the best part of that scene is that as we see Mike notice the love note, the camera pans down to let us see Bridget hiding underneath the bed. It wasn't enough for Mike to fall for the bait, Bridget had to see it with her own eyes because she gets such a thrill from it. Another nice touch is that Bridget isn't only hiding under the bed to wait for Mike, she's been doing a fucking crossword puzzle waiting for him.
A woman this smart is just bored with life. She was bored with her marriage, and bored to tears in Beston where they never see anyone who isn't white. But she wants that money she's already taken from her husband, and she gets her thrills and has fun by literally fucking with anyone who's in her way, including the hired help Clay brings to Beston to attempt to bust Bridget. After she has Mike all locked in, she realizes there's a breaking point with him that willl permanently lock him in as her little puppet for her wicked games. She knows there's something, but can't get it out of him (really because it's the exact thing nobody would ever admit to ANYONE, let alone someone you think you're in love with). Bridget needs this final piece of information, and she gets it by also making Mike think she went off to Miami to kill a cheating husband and get a cut of the life insurance money from the guy's wife. So when she goes off to figure out Mike's dirty little secret (of course, doing so the only way she can through her web of lies and cons), it's only a matter of time before the small town boy is all signed up.
It's not giving away the ending to say that Bridget's master plan is to convince Mike to kill Clay, who to him is just a lying and conniving husband -- but in his mind, NOT Bridget's husband. The final stroke in Fiorentino's brilliant performance is what she pulls off when Mike "chickens" out in offing Clay. It's Clay who finally convinces Mike he's been had. But even with that little plan not going away, Bridget has a back-up plan, and you realize it's not her thinking on the fly here, it's her Plan B just in case Mike couldn't do the dirty work. Again, it would surprise nobody if this twisted woman actually DID think of it on the spot though. Director John Dahl (who also made another movie that's held up incredibly well, Rounders) is so great with the little things right through the ending. Any other movie, a character like Bridget would have to die, but Dahl lets her get away with everything, only to figure out who to fuck with next. (In fact, there's a movie that calls itself a sequel to this called The Last Seduction II, and it has nothing to do with this movie, even though there's a character called Bridget Gregory and she's a schemer, but she's nowhere near the Bridget in this movie, so avoid the so-called "sequel" at all costs).

The movie is now 14 years old, and even though I own the DVD, whenever it's on one of the upper tier cable channels, I find myself watching the entire thing again. If Fiorentino would have been eligible for an Oscar for this film, she would have ran away with the thing. Instead, the academy literally had NO deserving candidate in the Best Actress category and had to give the thing to Jessica Lange for a bad movie called Blue Sky. So who cares about awards, Fiorentino and this gem of a movie live on. Just the simple fact that an actress can be so convincing in being that deceptive and obviously having that sort of thing in her is frightening enough. I can't believe that even after this movie (again, not obscure) that she didn't skyrocket to stardom. The real shock to me when it comes to Linda Fiorentino is that she hasn't been in ANYTHING since 2002, and according to her, has nothing even in the works. There are rumors that she's difficult to work with, but that's mostly because that fat bastard Kevin Smith said that on his DVD commentary for Dogma. The truth probably lies in her quotes on her imdb page about how she only works when she needs the money. Hell, she's probably got a little bit more of Bridget in her than we'd like to think. Peter Berg is really now a director, doing things like Friday Night Lights. Pullman still works regularly doing mainly vanilla roles, never reaching the swarminess he got to work with in The Last Seduction. But this movie will forever live on because it was Linda Fiorentino's shot at the title, and she's a knockout here, even if she never does another movie. Which looks like a real possibility.


Mackenzie said...

Not obscure. I've been masturbating to Linda Fiorentino for years.

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