|TO DIE FOR (1995)|
Gus Van Sant
|"You aren't really anybody in America if you're not on TV."|
|Time: 103 mins.|
Genre: Crime/Drama/Black Comedy
Kidman breaks out of the A-List pack with this equally evil and amusing performance as a local weather girl with national goals. She gives an Oscar-worthy turn that garnered her many other awards in this little flick about how far someone will go to get what they want. She steps out of her then hubbies enormous shadow and casts a big one of her own. Like Meryl Streep, Kidman picks roles that are 180 degrees from one to the other, giving her the chance to show her ever-expanding range. She disappears into this Mid-West kewpie with an ease that is shocking. Suzanne is certainly one of the most vibrant and interesting roles of her career and she knocks it out of the park. What makes this film both funny and startling is that her character is so stupid, vain and conceited, she initially appears harmless. What no one realizes is that behind the innocent blond facade is a media whore whose ambition knows no bounds. Once she gets a taste of celebrity, she's doesn't let anything get in her way to super stardom. Not marriage or family or lack of talent.
The film is told in flashback from Suzanne's point of view as she makes a video tape of herself for a network interview. Since many news anchors or reporters begin their careers doing the weather, Suzanne believes she's on her way to the top. She convinces the local affiliate, which is nothing to write home about, to let her do the nightly broadcast. They agree because she's pretty, can read and don't really care who does it. However, she's not stopping there. Within months of her debut, she begins taping some high school kids for what she's convinced will be her breakthrough entrance to the network. A documentary that will show she's more than a talking head helping people decide whether they need an umbrella. Though her husband Larry (Dillon) is initially supportive of her career, he begins to complain about all the time she spends down at the station. He wants kids and a real family, which couldn't be farther from Suzanne's dreams of her life. Screaming babies and soccer practice are not on her agenda.
Not about to be held back, Suzanne devises a plan to free herself from the dead weight her hubby is becoming. Since divorce is not an options, she turns to her new high school friends for help. She uses the promise of sex and a future with her to Jimmy (Phoenix), a drugged-out dimwit who can barely hold a normal conversation. He's the perfect pawn. All he wants is Suzanne and she just reels him in, virtually making him her slave. Of course, once he murders her husband, she wants nothing to do with him. Jimmy winds up in jail he had no chance of actually getting away with it and Suzanne is cleared of any misconduct. She was conveniently doing the weather at the time of the attack. It seems like everything is happening according to plan. Though don't worry, she gets what's coming to her in the end.
This is dark comedy at it's best and not everyone will find it as amusing as I did, I'm sure. It is not an inherently funny tale, yet Kidman's performance as Suzanne, especially the scenes where she looks directly into the camera as she tells her story, gives it a comic tone that can't be denied. Suzanne's sense of self and reality would be downright hysterical if they didn't turn out to be so deadly. Kidman is wicked, sexy and mesmerizing to watch. Her accent and intonation are so accurate I completely forgot that she wasn't American. In fact, she has a better American accent than most actors who are born and raised here. Phoenix gives the film's other standout performance. If I didn't know better I'd swear he was brain dead. A newborn baby could outwit Jimmy. His portrayal as the pawn in Suzanne's evil game is heartbreaking. All he wants is for someone to love him. What he gets is a serious lesson on the evils of women. As his first major adult role, it's a brilliant turn.
Given the nature of film's leading characters, this is not an overly deep tale. However, the story is compelling and the execution suspenseful. Van Sant has a great flair for the weird, wacky and criminal, all equally included here. TO DIE FOR may not be one of his more well known ventures, but it should be. It may be disturbing and quirky, but Kidman and Phoenix make it worth the trip.