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Film Title

Dangerous Liaisons

Director

Stephen Frears

Cast

  • Glenn Close as Marquise de Merteuil
  • John Malkovich as Vicomte de Valmont
  • Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame de Tourvel
  • Swoosie Kurtz as Madame de Volanges
  • Keanu Reeves as Le Chevalier Raphael Dancerny
  • Mildred Natwick as Madame de Rosemonde
  • Uma Thurman as Cecile de Volanges

A lavish and enthralling look at lust, betrayal and revenge, Dangerous Liaisons is brought to the screen with an acerbic wit and a dramatic power by director Stephen Frears and an outstanding screenplay by Christopher Hampton. The film succeeds in that it is splendid and breathtaking to look at, but at the same time compelling because of its decadent ,dramatic story and excellent central performances that dominate the proceedings.

The central plot revolves around Marquise de Mertueil, an aristocratic woman in 18th Century France. To the rest of society she is an intelligent and kind woman, but beneath the mask that she wears so well for the outside world is a cunning, vicious woman who delights in the suffering of others for her own personal enjoyment. Her conspirator is the seductive and cynical Viscomte de Valmont who revels in the plans she concocts up. Their latest scheme involves the ruining of an innocent and virginal young girl named Cecile who is soon to be married to one of the Marquise’s former lovers. If Valmont succeeds in this plan, the Marquise will offer him a personal reward. Valmont has other ideas as he has set himself the more difficult task of seducing the virtuous, convent-bred Madame de Tourvel. Things don’t go to plan however when Valmont unintentionally falls for the unsuspecting Madame.

Despite the film being a period piece, its classic themes of power and love still resonate in the present day. The theme of  differences between men and women in society and in general is carefully examined with an acute and critical eye. A strangely sinister tone lingers over the film as a result of the deceit and mendacity displayed on screen.The costumes and sets are second to none and create a clear and  beautiful evocation of pre-revolution France. Frears takes the audience on an enthralling trip through the various hypocrisies of the upper-class and exposing the evil and deceit beneath the facade.But above all, it is the script and acting that lingers longest in the memory after the credits have finished.

As the Marquise, Glenn Close is delightfully conniving and poisonous. The chemistry between her and Malkovich is electrifying as well as the numerous quick-witted remarks that fly between them. Malkovich brings a slimy and reptilian quality to the suave Valmont and has one of the most sinister smiles on the screen. But in my opinion, the real standout in the film is Michelle Pfeiffer as the victim in the twisted game and embodiment of grace and purity. Playing a character that could have been uninteresting, Pfeiffer turns this round to create a poignant portrayal of a virtuous and god-fearing woman who’s calm and peaceful resolve is shattered forever with the arrival of Valmont into her life. Her face is used for so many important moments in the film and in each she has an emotional intensity that grips like a powerful vice. Throughout the film each character changes somewhat, but the greatest change is Pfeiffer as Madame De Tourvel who has the biggest challenge of whether to stick to her morals or throw caution to the wind. In an early role, a young Uma Thurman portrays the virginal Cecile, another unwitting pawn in the deceitful game who is ruined by Valmont but becomes very carnal as a result of it. Keanu Reeves appears as another pawn in the deceptive game.

The best scenes in the movie are the ones in which Merteuil and Valmont devise their deliciously,devious plans. The brittle and caustic dialogue seems to just come natural to each as they carefully decide what pain they will inflict on their chosen victim. The two make for a memorably villainous double act who see life as an arena in which their manipulative psychological games are the main entertainment.

A period piece with a surprisingly contemporary and sexy edge to it, Dangerous Liaisons is a splendor for the eyes in terms of visual design, but a handsomely mounted drama and love story that makes you think.

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