The "Cruel Intentions" Trilogy Sept 28, 2018 10:41:42 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Sept 28, 2018 10:41:42 GMT -5
Cruel Intentions (1999)
Directed by: Roger Kumble
Directed by: Roger Kumble
Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe.
Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) is a rich Manhattan kid who lives in a luxurious mansion with his stepsister Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar). His reputation amongst his peers is a manipulative smooth-talker with little on his mind besides having sex. His intentions are at one point called "dishonorable," maybe even cruel. Kathryn is an equally manipulative, sometimes appallingly caustic minx who uses Sebastian to bring down Cecile (Selma Blair) after she inadvertently loses her boyfriend to the sweet but dim girl. Sebastian goes along with it, for he pines for his stepsister and finds her demands tricky to refuse. Kathryn later tasks him with a greater ultimatum: deflower Annette (Reese Witherspoon), the virginal daughter of the new headmaster of their private school. Annette has written a piece for Seventeen magazine praising the virtues of premarital virginity, and Kathryn is convinced she'll be one of the few Sebastian can't successfully bed. If she's right, he gives her the keys to his car. If he's right, Kathryn is all his. "You can put it anywhere," she even tells him.
Based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' famous story Dangerous Liaisons from 1792, Cruel Intentions is an unapologetic piece of nineties pulp, as contemptible as it is irresistible. Similar to Kathryn's Machiavellian ways, the words of writer/director Roger Kumble's screenplay carry a cynical edge that arrest you like a guilty pleasure of a daytime soap-opera. But the pleasure from Cruel Intentions is anything but guilty. It's a seriously enjoyable walk down the valley of amorality and selfishness embraced by spoiled-rotten prep-school kids.
One of the first reasons it manages to be successful is, yes, thanks to its performances. The film is Sarah Michelle Gellar's finest hour as an actress. She slinks into the role of a conniving seductress who knows her power over her externally confident but internally feeble stepbrother. The combination of Gellar's cold stare and line-delivery are on-point, and in turn heighten the suspense of a film as well as its alternative, pop rock score. Reese Witherspoon breaks out of what could've been an unforgiving, passive role into one that shows emotional depth at the appropriate moments, and Selma Blair handles her character's silliness in a believably understated manner. The weaker link is Ryan Phillippe, mostly due the recurring clunkiness of his line-delivery. At times, it adds to the character he's playing; at others, it risks undermining the mood of the entire film.
Against all odds, however, the film proceeds not only on the strengths of its cast but the writing and directorial skills of Kumble. His screenplay moves along at a comfortable pace with prolific but well-written events that avoid precluding any of the fun that might've been lost if the film became too entangled in its own plot. Cruel Intentions is a solid example of what could be considered as a film defined by its characters as opposed to one where plot and events define the characters. Sebastian and Kathryn are so frequently scheming and acting, remaining active agents to move the story and sequence of events along at a workable pace. A misstep for Kumble would've been to have too many events connect the characters like an anthology setting up various pitfalls in the form of continuity and conventional realism. Instead, his focus is retained on his subjects; where it should be and where it always resides.
The only time Kumble makes a misstep is the way he handles the character of Ronald, played by Sean Patrick Thomas, Cecile's black cello instructor. There's an unfortunately realistic yet awkwardly handled argument involving Ronald and Cecile's mother than invites racial implications in an egregiously hamfisted way. When Ronald is then brought back into the narrative late in the third act, his return feels perfunctory and vaguely hopeless given his entire existence as a plaything for Kathryn. Indeed, Cecile fits the same bill, but at least she is given more to do and interactions with her aren't so mutually exclusive.
The term "watchable" often applies to a film that's either satisfyingly average or inoffensively mediocre. When I say Cruel Intentions is very "watchable," what do I mean? Precisely neither in the aforementioned classical sense. I mean it's engrossing on the level it wants to be, enhanced by themes of lust, ego, privilege, and self-indulgence, all of which modestly explored by pleasing to the base-level senses. Even if you walk into the film skeptical and emerge with the mindset of it being "better than you thought," that still says a lot about Cruel Intentions. At some points in its story, it could've gone down routes that would've been very, very bad for all involved.
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Sean Patrick Thomas, and Christine Baranski. Directed by: Roger Kumble.