VIRTUOSITY

As “virtuosos of deceit” in Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons, Glenn Close is peerless, John Malkovitch a lot less. No one does female villainy better than Close; before her came Gale Sondergaard, but she was pre-packaged—with a ready-made snobby sneering contempt that, with each repeat, lessened impact. Close is a marvel of variation by will, control, tenacity; she gives the best performance of its kind in Fatal Attraction; she goes ecstatically over the top in 101 Dalmatians; and here she gives what may be the best costume period piece performance by an American actor. (Wouldn’t Close make a fab Madame Ming the Merciless?) Johnny Boy is nothing if not devilishly entertaining, especially when he gambols through those gilded digs and manicured gardens or when he hisses at Swoosie Kurtz. He’s commanding in spite of himself. Yet, suffering the same fate as Colin Firth in Miloš Forman’s Valmont, there’s a lack of addictive virility. Just what do Glenn, Uma Thurman and Michelle Pfeiffer see in this effeminate poseur that drives them to this level of romantic, sexual hysteria? (Historians’ advisories notwithstanding, were there no Pierce Brosnans in the late 1770s?) It is Frears’ good luck that his ladies never betrayed their inner-sense about Malkovitch or Keanu Reeves; had any of them cracked, the movie would have been swamped by the same waves of hisses that greet the Marquise at the end of the movie. Frears directs and Christopher Hampton adapts his own play from Choderlos de Laclos’s 1782 novel with great trust in the audience. Intelligent moviegoers waited a long time for a costumer like this and I can’t recall a more dedicated one.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.