- Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kathryn Merteuil
- Ryan Phillippe as Sebastian Valmont
- Reese Witherspoon as Annette Hargrove
- Selma Blair as Cecile Caldwell
A 90’s retelling of Dangerous Liaisons, Cruel Intentions may be not as good as the 80’s movie but still has enough energy, sex appeal and darkness to enjoy with some good performances from a photogenic cast.
Kathryn Merteuil is a wealthy and popular girl who resides in New York’s Upper East Side. Despite her seemingly sunny personality around others, she is in fact a ruthlessly scheming bitch who thrives on the misery of others. Her stepbrother Sebastian Valmont is equally as devious and is prone to seducing girls for enjoyment. The two manipulative step siblings conspire to ruin the reputations of those they don’t like. Kathryn has a new conquest for Sebastian, the naive Cecile Caldwell. She wants to ruin Cecile because her former boyfriend dumped her for the impressionable girl. Initially bored with this, Kathryn then makes a wager with Sebastian that he can’t refuse. If he can seduce the virginal headmaster’s daughter Annette Hargrove, Kathryn will offer herself to him. If he loses, she will get her dirty hands on his prized Jaguar. At first, Sebastian relishes the chance to spoil the virtue of Annette, who is the epitome of chastity and goodness. But as time goes on and he gets to know her, he starts to fall deeply in love with her. This hitch in the plan leads to a glossy tale of jealousy and sex.
As I mentioned earlier I prefer Dangerous Liaisons to Cruel Intentions. Saying that, Cruel Intentions has many positives to it. The visual style and direction of Roger Kumble is amazing in showing the shallow lifestyle of wealth and how it leads to boredom and worse. The script although melodramatic at times, does have some very dark undertones and you can feel the perverse sexuality come through as the movie goes on as Sebastian struggles with his feelings for Annette, whilst Kathryn manipulates from the sidelines. A well-chosen soundtrack gives the film an edge, especially the use of “Bittersweet Symphony” at a key moment of the story.
While subtlety and restraint isn’t the film’s strong suit, it’s capable cast gloss over these flaws with their performances. Shedding her All American Girl image, Sarah Michelle Gellar is splendidly seductive, manipulative and twisted as Kathryn. Whether saucily kissing Cecile, flaunting her body for Sebastian or putting on her fake smile, Gellar is riveting to say the least. Ryan Phillippe is devilishly charming as the resident Lothario Sebastian, who doesn’t realise that he will finally experience love for the first time when trying to seduce Annette. He has great chemistry with Gellar that gives the film a twisted sexuality as we watch them try to get one up on the other in the machinations they devise. Reese Witherspoon injects intelligence and virtue into the character of Annette, who reluctantly falls for Sebastian despite her vow of chastity. Annette’s role is pivotal in changing Sebastian and Reese Witherspoon has enough sweetness and quiet strength to bring this role to life. In a supporting role, Selma Blair is suitably childlike and impressionable as a victim in the game of seduction.
Twisted, sexy and frothy, Cruel Intentions is not exactly a restrained examination of deceit and jealousy. But the cast and some excellent direction make it an interesting teenage version of Dangerous Liaisons.