Synopsis: Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino) seems to have it all: beauty, intelligence and a marriage to Clay, a wealthy physician (Bill Pullman). But everything isn’t enough for Bridget, who persuades her husband to make dirty deals on prescription drugs and then runs with the profit. Now incognito in a mid-American small town. Bridget draws a naive local, Mike Swale (Peter Berg) into a smoldering affair.
Passion, greed and revenge forge a desperate triangle between the three as Bridget draws her unknowing victims deeper into her deadly web of deceit.
The Last Seduction 9.25
eyelights: Linda Fiorentino, Peter Berg. J.T. Walsh. the unflinching script. the twisted humour.
eyesores: the car crash sequence. the “rape” sequence.
“Anyone check you for a heartbeat recently?”
‘The Last Seduction’ is one of those films that snuck up on me some fifteen years ago. I had heard some whispers that the lead actress was phenomenal in it, and that there was some controversy around not being nominated for her performance, but I didn’t know anything else about it; this was very much the early internet era, so access to info was limited.
But the local library had purchased the laserdisc edition (it had an extensive LD collection, and rentals were free!), and I had bought a player precisely to take advantage of their vast array of Hollywood, indie and international films, as well as their TV series sets. I figured that it was a huge plus over getting a VCR and then having to contend with the limitations of the local video stores.
I took a gamble on ‘The Last Seduction’ and was floored by it: I had never seen a film that featured the villain as a protagonist before, let alone a female villain, let alone an exceedingly strong, willful, intelligent, female character. The closest thing I had found to it was ‘Basic Instinct‘, and its lead was actually Michael Douglas, not Sharon Stone. Here, Linda Fiorentino was the centerpiece.
Oh, and what a centerpiece!
In Fiorentino’s hands, Bridget Gregory was a captivating, tough-as-nails, sexy, selfish, malicious genius. She was loathsome, and yet I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her, breathlessly awaiting her next manoeuvre, her latest ploy. Even her cruelest act somehow managed to circumvent disdain, instead eliciting laughs, astonishment, or even marvel at the sharpness of her mind… and tongue.
Very few actresses could have managed this feat. As written, Bridget is near-irredeemable, a human being of the lowest order, someone you want to bury in the Nevada desert – preferably alive. And yet Fiorentino sunk her teeth into the part so ferociously that she made the character a force of nature, not far removed from Mel Gibson’s turn in ‘Payback’. “Get ready to root for the bad girl!”, she seems to dare.
Frankly, I can’ t imagine anyone else playing Bridget. But she’s not alone; much of the cast is marvelous:
- Peter Berg plays Mike, a man that Bridget meets while passing through a small town, and who ends up being used and abused by her in myriad ways. Mike is a dreamer who seeks escape from his small-time reality and believes he’s found it in Bridget. Berg imbues Mike with just enough naïveté, smarts and moral fiber to make him believable. He’s not entirely loveable, but he’s sympathetic enough that one feels bad for him. What I like is that he’s not just a patsy who’s being used; sometimes he pushes back. It’s just that his longing for another life is his Achilles’ heel – and Bridget knows this all too well.
- Bill Pullman plays Clay, Bridget’s spouse, whom she back-stabbed over a massive drug deal loot. He’s in serious trouble because he was planning to use the money to pay back a loan shark and now he has nothing left. A wily one, he tries very hard to track her down, using all sorts of tricks to get her to involuntarily disclose her whereabouts; he’s constantly trying to outdo her, and is quick to catch her at her own game. I’m not a huge fan of the actor, but there are flashes of brilliance that pass through Pullman’s eyes; he’s goofy, but he gave his character just enough intelligence to explain why Bridget would have paired up with him in the first place.
- Bill Nunn plays Harlan, a private investigator that Clay hires to help him track down Bridget. He’s a stern-looking, take-no-$#!t, kind of guy, who clearly looks down upon his client – and appears bitter that he can’t do better. He’s a decent investigator, so why he’s involved with Clay is beyond me (too bad, too, because he got involved with the wrong people this time). Nunn makes him likeable, but doesn’t give him much edge. Perhaps that’s intentional, but Harlan comes off as an extremely regular guy, nothing special.
- J.T. Walsh is phenomenal as Bridget’s lawyer: he gives the man enough sleaze factor for us to believe that he’d associate with someone as vile as Bridget, enough sharpness for us to know that his advice to her is largely on the money, and enough humour for us to know that he’s extremely self-confident; he doesn’t get fazed by anything because he’s always one step ahead. I’ve never taken a liking to this actor, but it’s an excellent performance and great casting; he’s perfect for this part.
Steve Barancik’s script is phenomenal, only a few degrees short of genius. I’ve read some online lists of elements that stretch the boundaries of disbelief in it, but I think that it’s all credible enough that it works – aside from the car crash sequence and the faked rape bit which were both this side of plausible. Beyond that, though, I felt that the whole thing holds up extremely well. And the dialogue… well, it’s so sharp that it kills; it’s crude, it’s mean, but it can be devastatingly funny.
‘The Last Seduction’, for all its mean-spiritedness, is a playful motion picture – even its soundtrack underscores this aspect. Joseph Vitarelli gave the film a bouncy, almost buoyant, theme that recurs throughout, eschewing a suspenseful tone that many composers might have been drawn to. His jazzy concoction created a tone that highlighted the quality of the picture all the while ensuring that it doesn’t get too dark; it’s entirely suited to the tone of the script.
Although ‘The Last Seduction’, along with its title, has a noirish vibe to it, Bridget is not a femme fatale in the traditional sense: she doesn’t use sex to meet her ends, she uses it for her own pleasure. And while she uses people to meet her ends, her initial intention wasn’t to manipulate Mike. That came later. And when she finally did, she used her mind, not her body to do it – she felled her opponents with the sharpest tool she has: her intelligence.
Bridget Gregory is a powerhouse of a woman and is the ultimate f-you for women who want to see an independent female beat men at their own games… and win. It’s the feminist aspect of this picture that I found the most seductive: it is not something that we see very often in cinema, and I found it extremely refreshing. Even to this day, ‘The Last Seduction’ satisfies me like no other film does. It may not be the last of its kind, but it’s of a rare breed indeed.
Post scriptum: A sequel was produced five years later, no doubt to cash in on its predecessor (much like ‘Basic Instinct 2’ tried to, albeit much, much later). It was not written, directed or produced by the same crew and Linda Fiorentino also didn’t return. It really lacks her presence. And a script. And wit. And edge. Avoid at all costs.
Date of viewing: July 3, 2013