REAL MEAN CRITTERS

THE LAST SEDUCTION

USA

1994

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For a while The Last Seduction was a cult movie. Maybe it still is. Since 1994 our thinking on gender has changed. The Last Seduction has not dated but the surprises may be fewer for a modern audience. The movie is tough, cynical and hard hearted.   Without ever straining for laughs The Last Seduction is also funny. The soundtrack alone makes the film worthy of a bucket list. The jazz score by Joseph Vitarelli sidesteps melody and relies on a staccato sequence of notes. The music is light cocktail jazz but there is a heavy emphasis on the offbeat that somehow does not mitigate its subtle effect. As the tension in the film increases, the music becomes less complicated. During an important conversation the accompanying music is reduced to just two piano notes. People think The Last Seduction is cool and hip, which it is, but it is also more. The Last Seduction invites serious thinking.

Brigitte Gregory is a New York woman who robs her husband and takes the money to a small town in a region that the New Yorkers in the film call cow country. Her name, which combines both the masculine and the feminine, straddles the genders. Brigitte is a woman who is beyond a gender identity. By the time the film has finished we will understand that few of the characters can be defined by gender. Her husband flirts with a black detective and in one scene attempts to kiss him.  Mike is the small town sap that Brigitte involves in her murderous schemes. He is attracted to Brigitte because he thinks that she may help him recover what he regards as his lost manhood, his failure in his brief stay in the city. The delayed revelation of his secret confirms his own gender confusion. In the final confrontation between Brigitte and Mike she is dressed as a man. In revenge Mike forces her to have sex with him. Mike is making love to the man that Brigitte is pretending to be.  Mike says that he is bigger than a small town but he knows Brigitte is bigger than him. The slogan of the small town that dragged Mike back home is ‘the home of the Bulldogs’. None of the bulldogs in Beston are a match for Brigitte.   The town name Beston is meant to be ironical.

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Steve Barancik wrote the razor sharp script. He said he wanted to write a thriller that had a woman as the key protagonist. He also wanted to write about a woman that frightened him. Make that most men. According to Barancik the part of hard as nails Brigitte was rejected by 30 actresses in Hollywood. They either worried about their future image or whether they could succeed in the role. Linda Fiorentino has a tough edge that may be genuine. She can bite a fingernail and look nasty. When Mike first meets Brigitte, she tells him to go away. Her tone and words would blister any male ego. Linda Fiorentino is tall and slim but, although loaded with confidence, she is presentable rather than beautiful. Brigitte is not a femme fatale that has the power to make any man fall at her feet. She does, though, know how to seduce and control. Like her male equivalents, she knows how to pick her marks. Brigitte can have sex with a man that she neither likes nor respects and find it pleasurable. Movies have wounded men do this all the time. For women in cinema it is rare, which may be why the part was rejected by so many actresses. The Last Seduction obliges us to ponder as to whether Brigitte is the ‘evil bitch’ described in the film or just the female equivalent of what would be accepted as a tough male anti-hero.

At the beginning of the film Brigitte is seen running her sales team in New York. She is comfortable giving orders to the subservient men who at one point she calls eunuchs. As she barks instructions, she counts the money in her hand. Later in the film we see Brigitte lick a bundle of banknotes. This is a woman who is comfortable hustling and competing for monetary rewards. She has more regard for money than people. Finally we see Brigitte walk through the rain to her limousine.   Her chauffeur carries the umbrella that protects Brigitte from the rain. This occurs not because Brigitte is female and the chauffeur is indulging in an old-fashioned courtesy. She is entitled to be rain free because she is now rich and powerful.

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John Dahl, who directed The Last Seduction, was a key figure in the neo-noir movies that emerged in the 90s.   Neo-noir is a modern version of film noir. There are differences. Neo-noir movies are in colour, the characters use four letter words and there is explicit sex. The Last Seduction qualifies as neo-noir but it does not exist as a pastiche of previous film noir. Brigitte may be willing to betray and rob men but she is too complicated for the film to follow earlier models. In film noir the femme fatales had a sexual shield behind which they could hide their secret plans. In the dark moments the treacherous woman lowered her eyes. When they embraced the men they would betray, they whispered words of love. Brigitte does none of this although she does leave a bedside note where she has written ‘I love Mike’. As Mike reads the duplicitous note, Brigitte hides under the bed and waits for Mike to swallow the bait. This is a deceit that relies on mechanics rather than seductive whisperings. Brigitte tells lies and makes false promises but we also see her under pressure and without a man to rely on or exploit. In these moments Brigitte can be anxious and even frightened. She is not, though, vulnerable. Brigitte finds herself in difficult situations but she is a woman who can respond to disaster. She is a dark character but also a hero. It is her actions that drive the movie. Everybody else is obliged to respond.

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In The Last Seduction the relationship of the small town to the city is stressed.  New York has cynicism that makes its inhabitants amoral and restless. The small town rituals of Beston limit vision and understanding. The arrival of the black detective in Beston produces astonishment. The men in Beston who offer sympathy to Brigitte are too naïve for their gesture to have merit. Rather than demonstrating decency they sympathise because they have a simplified view of women and their supposed vulnerability.   These traditional men are a walking paradox. They can show women a compassion they withhold from other men but in their darker moments treat women as worthy of contempt. The citizens of Beston are rooted in a way of life that lacks authenticity. The New Yorkers are selfish and cruel but are not defined by misguided communal roots. Frustrated by the limitations of Beston routine and society Brigitte reverses the words in New York to create her alias. Her ability to write backwards shows that her thinking is not restricted by convention.

More than once Brigitte spits out stale chewing gum and food that she considers unsophisticated. The woman has appetites but is also easily bored. In the final shot we wonder about what waits for Brigitte. She will not pay the price that Mike pays for his naivety but there is just a slight suggestion at the end of the film that her selfish cynicism will not protect her from her own misunderstanding of what constitutes happiness. If the suggestion exists, it is only momentary. The limousine is comfortable, the rain is outside and the hard-hearted woman is triumphant. Brigitte has won, and that was her ambition.

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All the actors add to the merit of the film. Bill Pullman is the abandoned husband of Brigitte. He is called Clay and, of course, he is putty in her hands. Pullman is great at being both sophisticated and a dope. He does just enough for us to realise how he differs from Mike. The encounter between Clay and Mike is one of the highlights of the film. Both men realise at different speeds the duplicity and complicated deceits of Brigitte. J T Walsh is also great as the affluent but sleazy lawyer and the nearest thing Brigitte has to a soul mate. The question we ponder at the end, when prosperity awaits Brigitte, is how many kindred spirits she will meet amongst the rich and powerful.

There are sex scenes in the film and over twenty years ago the film was marketed as a noir erotic thriller. These scenes have their humorous moments and ironies. The first time Brigitte and Mike make love Mike is pinned or imprisoned against a wire fence. The next time Brigitte sits on Mike with her back to his face. With her hands Brigitte bangs the ceiling above her head. Brigitte is not interested in intimacy. She will, of course, pay a price for her individualistic ambitions and appetites. And that is another reason why she is sitting alone in the limousine at the end of the film and there is nothing but grey rain outside.

Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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