Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Deon Taylor
Stars: Hilary Swank, Mike Ealy, Damaris Lewis, Mike Colter, Danny Pino, Tyrin Turner.
This trashy B-grade erotic thriller is a latter day noir-like crime drama that is part Fatal Attraction, part Body Heat and part Basic Instinct. But the longer it goes the more convoluted its plotting becomes, and some plot twists become a little too unbelievable.
Derrick (Michael Ealy, from The Intruder, etc) is a former sports star turned sports agent who has built a successful business with his best friend Rafe (Mike Colter). He has a great life, he lives in a luxurious, sprawling house in the Hollywood Hills with a superb view of Los Angeles which he shares with his beautiful trophy wife with Traci (Damaris Lewis), a real estate agent, and he drives luxury sports cars. There is a multi-million dollar offer on the table to buy the business, but Derrick resists. He grows suspicious of Traci’s nocturnal business meetings and begins to suspect that she is having an affair.
Then he and Rafe travel to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. There he flirts with the beautiful Val (Hilary Swank) whom he meets at a swanky nightclub. He tells her that his name is Darren and that he is from Seattle – the first of many deceptions thrown up in the sinuous script from David Loughery (a veteran of this genre having written films like Lakeview Terrace, etc). The one-night stand though comes back to haunt him in lethal fashion.
Back in LA he is woken one night by the sounds of disturbance in his house and he interrupts what he thinks is a burglary. The police arrive and then turn the investigation over to a detective. Derrick is shocked to discover that Val Quinlan is the detective in charge of the case. While she assures him that what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas, he grows uncomfortable with her presence. You can cut the tension between them with a knife. Val tells Derrick that she doesn’t think the break in was a robbery but rather a murder attempt.
Val was once a highly respected and decorated detective until her life went off the rails in controversial circumstances. Now a recovered alcoholic she is in the midst of a contentious custody dispute with her former husband Carter Heywood (Danny Pino, from tv series Cold Case, Law & Order: SVU, etc), an up-and-coming politician embroiled in a very public scandal. Val begins to ingratiate herself into Derrick’s life and seduces him into a very intricate web of murder, deception, and betrayal. He soon finds himself ensnared in her complex and lethal scheme to gain custody of her daughter and learns that his one little discretion has the potential to ruin his life, and maybe even kill him. He has to somehow find a way to outwit the desperate Val and survive.
Director Deon Taylor openly wears the influence of Hitchcock and 80s erotic thrillers here, but his slick and efficient approach keeps the film moving, glossing over the more ridiculous elements of the narrative. There are numerous red herrings along the way, including Derrick’s troubled but streetwise ex-con cousin (Tyrin Turner), that add spice to the formulaic script. There’s some glorious cinematography from Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential, etc) that gives the film a glossy surface, while Charlie Campbell’s quality production design is also good and creates a wonderful contrast between Derrick’s lavish house and Val’s bare loft apartment.
The increasingly unhinged and dangerous Val is a complex three-dimensional character, and Swank completely goes for it with an over the top scenery chewing performance that holds our attention. Swank has won two Oscars (for Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby), and here she plays a manipulative femme fatale. She brings a hard edge to her performance as the unsympathetic and unlikable Val but she seems to relish this opportunity to play against type. Ealy brings a desperation to his performance and he makes the mot of the tense, innuendo laden confrontations with Swank’s character.
Fatale doesn’t reinvent the genre but it turns out to be something of a moderately entertaining guilty pleasure.