Monday, January 17, 2011
The Last Seduction
The film opens on busy traffic in New York City, quickly moving to a lead generation room where Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino) oversees the callers. She clearly expects results, offering bonuses and insulting the callers reminding one of them "ask for the sale four times, every time. Got it?" When one of the salesmen makes a sale she offers him either $100.00 or $1000.00 worth of rare commemorative coins. When he chooses the $100.00 she says "Wise man."
Meanwhile, Bridget's husband, Clay Gregory (Bill Pullman), is meeting some drug dealers under a bridge with a case full of "pharmaceutical cocaine." He hands them is case, and tries to take the case of money from one of the money only to have a gun pulled on him. He lets go and starts sobbing "one stupid mistake." assuming he's either getting busted or robbed. It turns out it's neither, they just don't want to give up the case, and they dump the money out, leaving it on the ground for him.
Bridget gets to her and Clay's apartment, finding a message from Clay that his meeting was moved back. She's excited when he comes home, asking if he got the money. Clay starts pulling the bills out of his shirt and Bridget remarks on his appearance, "Do you walk the streets like that? You're an idiot!" Clay responds by slapping her and then quickly apologizes, telling her he's on edge from dealing with "scary people." and offering to let her hit him anywhere, hard. He remarks "this is what we worked for" and reminds her that she's a "criminal mastermind" He also mentions that he'll pay off the loan shark tomorrow, to which Bridget says "maybe he'll forget." Clay goes off to the shower, yelling into the living room for Bridget's opinion on dinner plans. "Whatever you want" she says, as she writes a note, (backwards) takes the money and leaves. Clay realizes she's gone and finds the not which he reads in the mirror, says "How are we supposed to celebrate?"
He calls out to her in the street "You better run!"
Bridget takes a cab to her own car, takes off her ring and drives out of the city, for Chicago, stopping in Beston when she gets low on gas. Before leaving she stops into a Beston bar, where Mike Swale (Peter Berg) is chatting with his friends about a recent trip he made to Buffalo, which didn't work out, landing him back in Beston. When a girl hits on Mike, he hushes his friends from ooohing about it saying "These women are anchors. You get too close to one, Beston's got you for life." This is clearly a regular thing for Mike as his friends react saying "Here we go again." One of Mike's friends says "Tell me about the wife." pointing out Mike's wedding band. Mike complains that he can't get it off. Mike starts complaining about being stuck in Beston again, and his friend asks when he'll leave. Mike answers "How long's it take to grow a new set of balls?" Mike then notices Bridget enter the bar. The bartender intentionally snubs her, asking if anyone in the bar needs a drink while she's asking for one. Mike tells his friend, "This might be my new set of balls." Mike orders her a drink which the bartender is happy to get now. Trying to make small talk, Mike says "You're not from around here?" and Bridget answers "Fuck off." before grabbing a table for herself. Mike approaches her table and is told to go away.
Mike: Well, I haven't finished charming you yet.
Bridget: You haven't started.
Mike: Give me a chance.
Bridget: Go find yourself a nice little cow girl, make nice little cow babies and leave me alone.
Mike: [leaning in] I'm hung like a horse. Think about it.
Bridget: Let's see
Mike: Excuse me?
Bridget: Mr Ed. Let's see.
Mike: Look, I tried to be nice. I can see that's something you're not...
Bridget: Now I'm trying. I can be very nice when I try. Sit down.
Mike is shocked when she check's out his horse claim as soon as he sits down. saying "I never buy anything sight unseen" She then quizzes him about his past. Mike claims he's had twelve lovers, no prostitutes, and emphasizes that he's never slept with a man. She then asks about his place. Mike says he also has a name prompting Bridget to say "No names. Meet me outside."
Mike wakes up looking for her, and finds Bridget talking on his phone and checking out his fridge. She calls her lawyer, Frank (J.T. Walsh) and explains her situation. Frank tells her her husband is entitled to half of anything bought with the cash, so to keep it in cash until a divorce can be finalized which he estimates could take two years. he also advises her to stay put as Clay will know to look for her in Chicago. She runs out without saying good bye to Mike, and he runs outside yelling after her. Bridget picks up a newspaper and finds a job opening in the classifieds for a Lead Generation Manager at Interstate Insurance Company. The employer is impressed with her resume, and she tells him a story about her husband beating her, which is forcing her to hide and use an assumed name. She choose the name Wendy Kroy. She runs into Mike in the hallway, who works at the same company. She tells him to act as if the sex never happened.
Bridget rents a place and calls Frank again from her office. Frank tells her that Clay called talking about "a loan shark and his thumb." He adds "Anyone check you for a heartbeat lately?" He tells her that if she won't send Clay some cash to tell him to quit calling. She says she'll call Clay and Frank tells her to be careful as he might trace it. She responds "He's not that clever." She gives Clay a call and we see that Clay's thumb is bandaged. The operator asks if he'll take the call and Clay asks "Is this Bridget in Chicago or Bridget in Dallas?" Bridget tells the operator to disconnect. After work she goes to the bar again, where Mike immediately sees her. She takes him outside to have sex in a not very hidden spot behind the bar. Mike takes the opportunity to ask "Where do I fit in?" and isn't pleased when she says "You're my designated fuck."
They meet for sex regularly and Mike keeps pushing for information which she doesn't give. He continues to complain about being "kept at arm's length." She continually makes light of his need for more than sex. Bridget calls Clay from the office again and asks him to get the number from a pay phone down the block and she'll call back. We see that Clay has a guy, Harlan (Bill Nunn) there to trace the call. Clay runs around the apartment to sound winded and when she calls back he gives her a number he already has. Clay runs in place again holding a cordless phone given to him by Harlan, while jumping rope in the apartment. When Bridget remarks it sounds quiet, he opens a window. He asks for the money back and Bridget says "It's mine, you hit me." Clay tells her the $100,000.00 he borrowed from the loan shark is now $150,000.00. She offers to pay off the loan shark and his private detective and leave him ten grand. The phone rings in the apartment tipping her off and she hangs up. The trace turns up the area code, giving them the city she's in. Frank advises her to stay put since she has an alias and it's not likely they'll find her.
Bridget and Mike show up to work at the same time and Bridget explains that "a woman loses 50% of her authority when people find out who she's sleeping with." Mike protests, but when they get in the building she slaps Mike and acts as if he's groping her.
Harlan and Clay discuss finding Bridget and Harlan explains he doesn't have enough information to do anything. Their talking is interrupted by a "customer" buying prescription drugs from Clay. Harlan tells Clay that she likely has an alias. Clay sees a "New York" poster in the mirror, and recalling Bridget's backard writing skill, tells Harlan that she's using "Wendy Kroy" because all she's thinking about is getting back to New York.
Bridget approaches Mike at the bar five days after the office incident. Mike is still complaining about wanting more. Mike tells Bridget about his job as a claims adjuster, which she finds boring until he mentioned he talked with a woman whose husband died, and the woman remarked that she should have killed him years ago. Mike also explains that he knew the husband was cheating from his credit report, as he had credit cards for women other than his wife. Bridget convinces Mike that they should make a list of women with cheating husbands, who have big insurance policies. She then calls one of the numbers and sells the woman her husband's murder, before telling the woman it was a joke. She then tells Mike that she's using the activity to be more than sex partners when he doesn't want to play along. Mike does a call of his own and she lets him come back to her place for the first time. In bed, Bridget asks Mike to tell her about his wife. He asks "How'd you know?" and she says "I didn't." She prompts him to talk about her wife but he isn't forthcoming saying "It was a mistake." Mike implies that Bridget coming to town was significant and when pressed about it he says "You've been out there. You came here, and you chose me. So I was right, I'm bigger than this town."
Bridget: So what's wrong?
Mike: You can't stop reminding me that you're bigger than me.
Bridget gets to work the next day and hears in a hush hush tone from the receptionist that "There was a black man here to see you." She asks what he wanted and the receptionist says "Wouldn't say. He was black though." Bridget can't get ahold of Frank and later that night at Mike's place, she reveals that she's on the run. She tells him she "made a sale." referring to murdering cheating husbands. Mike isn't at all interested and turns her down going off to play hockey without her. She gets into her car to leave and Harlan gets into the car with her holding a gun on her. Bridget offers to share with him instead of Clay and banters with him about leaving her money. She teases him asking "Is it true what they say about size?" when she doesn't let up he unzips his pants. She speeds up while he does this and slams the car into a telephone pole counting on the drivers side airbag to protect her, although Harlan gets thrown through the windshield and killed. At the hospital she tells the police that Harlan had planned to rape her. Mike shows up at the hospital and asks how hockey was, playing up his guilt. She pushes him about the murder for hire again. He won't agree and she tells him she'll do it herself rather than stay there forever.
Bridget calls Clay and he remarks that he heard about Clay. He tells her that he's hired a local PI to watch her, parked outside her house. He tells her that now that he knows where she is he's willing to hire a sociopath to take her out. Bridget offers to buy a week, paying the loan shark while she settles things. Clay asks "What made you do this?"
Bridget: I don't know. You slapped me.
Clay: That's just an excuse
Bridget: You're probably right, but I get to slap you back.
Clay agrees to her proposition as long as the local PI keeps tailing her.
Back at the office, she tries to make travel arrangements without giving her name. Mike listens outside the door and seems concerned that she's going away. She tells him she's just going to New York for the weekend. At her place, Bridget bakes cookies for the PI, dropping one and putting a board with nails under his tire when she picks it up. A cab pulls up and she asks to go to Buffalo. She visits city hall and gets the name of Mike's wife, Trish Swale. She then visits Mike's wife and heads home.
Back at the bar, one of Mike's friends tells him that Bridget asked what Mike's secret was, and propositioned him. Mike hits his friend who then says that he came onto her and she shot him down. Mike is distraught and drunk, calls Bridget from a payphone while drinking from a paper bag, leaving her a confessional message about loving her and having a hard time trusting himself after Buffalo. Bridget listens to the message and scribbles a note with Mike's name in a heart. Mike drives over later to erase the message and finds the scribbling while Bridget watches from under the bed. She leaves a ticket for Mike to find coming in, that makes it appear that she went to Miami. Mike assumes she killed the guy she'd talked about. Mike pulls out the note, to prove that she loves him, but Bridget kicks him out. She can't help but laugh afterwards.
Mike approaches her at the office, asking for details about the guy she killed, telling her that he's trying to accept what she's done. She tells him she's leaving without him and he asks what he can do to convince her to take him. She tells him that he needs to do what she did and that would make them equals. She presents him with information on a guy named Cahill. Mike refuses again. and as he leaves Bridget smiles and writes a letter claiming to be from his wife Trish, telling him she got a job at Interstate Insurance. We see Mike opening and reading the letter.
Mike shows up at Bridget's place, exclaiming that he'll do it as long as they never come back to Beston. Bridget calls the police and claims the PI watching her exposed himself to local kids. While the police hassle the PI, Bridget and Mike take off. On the ride to New York, Bridget grills him about the details of the murder, which involve restraining and gagging Cahill and acting as if he's robbing the place and stabbing him to death. He asks why he has to shut the lights off afterwards and she tells him it's psychology, to tell himself he's finished an unpleasant chore.
We see Mike find Cahill on the mailbox tag. He enters the apartment and we see that he's in Clay's apartment. Clay doesn't seem intimidated, and offers some wisecracks. He critiques Mike's methods telling him if he's gagged he can't tell him where everything is. Mike can't bring himself to stab Clay and he exclaims to himself "I can't do it Wendy! I just cant!" This prompts an outburst from the gagged Clay, which catches his interest. He lets Clay explain. He gives Mike the details and he tells Mike to find something else in the apartment that says Cahill. Clay explains that she is planning to finger him for the murder, and figures that the cops are already on the way. assuming he's to signal her somehow, which they realize is the reason that Mike is to shut the lights off. Bridget watches the window from the street and when the lights go off she heads up. Mike kicks a wedding picture across the floor to her and confronts her about her plan. Clay is still bound as Bridget has the handcuff keys. She sprays mace down his throat, killing him and tells Mike that now they have a future. She then suggests they "roleplay" although Mike is stunned at what just happened. She tells him "You killed my husband and raped me!" Mike pushes her away and holds the gun on her, telling her she's going to jail. He picks up the phone and Bridget tells him that Trish wasn't coming to Beston. We see in flashback that Trish is actually a man. Bridget taunts him about it, and he slaps her and dares him to rape her. Mike is over the edge now and gives in, not realizing that Bridget has dialed 911 while laying over the desk. Bridget makes sure to yell, "You killed my husband!" while he says "You want to be raped! I'll rape you!" the 911 operator of course hears everything.
Mike is in prison talking to his lawyer, who tells him that the man Bridget claimed to kill is still alive and that the case against him is airtight and there's nothing he can do without one piece of evidence. He mentions that he's likely facing the death penalty. He tells the lawyer, "There might be one thing." We then see Bridget in a limo handling the tag that reads "Cahill" She burns it with her lighter as the limo drives her away.
What About it?
The Last Seduction is firmly set in the tradition of film noir characterization, offering a twist by using the classic femme fatale as the main character. Fiorentino's Bridget is completely amoral, willing to do any deed, to secure her goal of keeping the stolen money. She's not quite a mastermind, but is a gifted schemer and manipulator who pays attention to the details. Her husband's accusation that she's using the fact that he slapped her as an excuse, appears possible and it seems likely that she never planned to share the money she convinced him to make.
In many ways, Bridget behaves like a stereotypical man. When Mike insists on a relationship that's more than sex, she artfully keeps him at a distance, despite his clinging. She is used to being in control of the situation and those around her. Even in her legitimate employment, she gets to order men around and offer them incentives and insults at her own whim. While we can assume that she and her husband have some history, it's also very clear that she was responsible for the Clay stealing drugs and selling them. We see during the deal that Clay is not very comfortable doing it. Even after the drug deal is done, Clay talks about using it until "the doctor bucks" start coming in. Bridget is perhaps already bored with that plan.
She's a good judge of people and no one in the film is nearly a match for her. She's always aware of others perceptions and not afraid to pull any card for the desired effect. Clay is at least aware of her talents and ruthlessness, leaving her with no option but to hide out. While she could have eased some of the tension by leaving enough money for him to pay off the loan shark, she doesn't bother. He slapped her after all, as she says herself, she's only slapping him back. This shows she's willing to make things difficult for herself rather than relinquish control. It's likely that if she had paid off his debt, his interest in finding her would be much less as he wouldn't be worried about having bones broken. Clay accepts, when she offers to "buy a week." as his fear is very much driving him. We also see the extreme need for control in her staged reaction to Mike when they walk into work together. She tells Mike, "a woman loses 50% of her authority when people find out who she's sleeping with." This matters to her, although this is a job she's planning to leave at the soonest opportunity. Even in her fictional life, she needs to maintain that image.
Clay knows her too well, and is too desperate to be easily manipulated. Mike, on the other hand couldn't be a better prospect. She picks up on his desire to be "bigger than Beston" and plays it to full effect. Clay knows that he's in over his head, but he assumes that with persistence she'll soften a bit. Mike has no idea that their entire relationship is manipulation. Bridget manipulates in an interesting way. It doesn't seem that she starts with any plan but works more through a kind of "inspiration." She doesn't get the idea to kill Clay until Mike gives her the idea discussing an insurance claim. Up until that point she manipulates him in a general sense, keeping him susceptible to her needs as a too perhaps, but unsettled on it's use. Once she has a plan, she wastes no time in putting it to work, but tries to use the minimum effort necessary, while preparing the next step. If leaving a note with Mike's name in a heart had been sufficient, she wouldn't have needed to forge a letter from Trish, but she had the information ready in any case. We can imagine that if she didn't use it to coerce him, she would've used it later on.
Clay is not dumb, but can't possibly imagine what she's capable of. He imagines that her icy nature is a defense mechanism that he can get through. It's quite clear that Clay has a fairly strong moral sense and repeatedly rejects her "murder for hire" idea, at least concerning his own involvement. He does not however, ever disengage from her influence. He sees murder as wrong, but is able to discuss it with her and continue sleeping with her. When he assumes that she has murdered someone, he makes a show of attempting to understand. The thought never enters his head that he is in danger. He's very naive, but wants very much not to be. Bridget's very presence, excites him with the promise of possibilities outside of Beston. There are unanswered questions about Clay. We know he married a man in Buffalo, which is a secret he's willing to commit murder to keep from facing. He explains the marriage (without the man part) as bad judgment, but we don't know what really occurred. We can assume that if he was married for days that he was aware his wife was a man. Possibly the situation overloaded his small town morals, as he clearly feels deep shame about it. Bad judgment seems to be a theme for him, as Bridget is a much worse choice for him than "Trish." Mike never has a chance.
Clay needs to be told what to do, before he'll make any big moves. Big choices and changes terrify him. This suits him perfectly for Bridget, but not perfectly, as his qualms prevent him from killing Clay. Even after Bridget kills Clay, Mike is hesitant to act, as if he wants to believe there's still a chance of a future with her. Mike could physically overpower Bridget, and also has a gun, yet she manipulates him into "raping her" for the 911 call, after she had already told him what she was planning to do.
Linda Fiorentino makes the most of a fantastic part, putting on whatever emotion suits her purpose at the time, while maintaining the sense of authority that is the core of her character. We don't always know what's real or not with her other than the fact that she really plans to keep the money. Bill Pullman plays against her perfectly, as the only character other than her lawyer who really knows her, and a low life in his own fashion. He's also willing to think outside the box, but has a need for justification that Bridget doesn't share. Clay sells prescription drugs out of his apartment, but makes his characters go through mock medical questions. He has no trouble stealing drugs, but does it in order to get by until he's a doctor making legitimate money. Despite what he knows, including Bridget's location, he's willing to give her a week to "settle thing" even after she kills the private eye he sent to find her. He assumes like Mike that she has a limit to what she'll do. Ultimately, Bridget just proves more ruthless and better at improvising than he is.
John Dahl has created a smart film with enjoyably twisted characters. The dialogue is sharp and original moving as quickly as the plot. Using a genre that typically puts women in peril, he allows he audience to enjoy watching the tables get turned. Bridget shares many qualities with the tough as nails, unshakable, PI's, once portrayed by actors such as Bogart and Mitchum. in classic noir films, and it's surely no accident that she uses as her ploy, an insurance scam which recalls the classic film "Double Indemnity" Her character also has similarities to Barbara Stanwyck's character, the femme fatale in that film, only Bridget is a thousand times more competent. She's also less morally ambiguous, falling squarely on the villain side. In this film like many classic noirs, we don't cheer for the lead because she's a good person, although we may celebrate her wit or ingenuity. And, there is a certain charm to seeing the character put herself up against everyone with an impossible scheme and come out the best man, or in this case the best woman in the game.