I went into Dangerous Liaisons kinda bummed it had taken me this long to get to the film; not because I’d been looking forward to it, but because it seemed to fall under the same sort of criteria that plenty of other films on the list met. It was a period piece, with lavish production value, and a plot that followed the aristocracy of centuries gone by, usually in a foreign country (in this case France). Boy does that sound familiar. Then I started it. The next time I looked at the clock, I was over an hour into the film, and I remember being positively shocked at where the time had gone. I happily watched the rest of the film, and when it ended, I had a big smile on my face. I had just watched one of the last remaining surprise finds (for me) on the list.
Glenn Close is the Marquise de Merteuil, a title and name so complicated I had to check Wikipedia in order to spell it correctly. Not to be outdone, in complicated names or in reputation, is her good friend, pseudo-rival, and sometimes lover, the Vicomte de Valmont, played exquisitely by John Malkovich. Together, they hatch a scheme of diabolical revenge, where Valmont, under orders from Merteuil, is to seduce the young daughter of a friend, who is engaged to one of Merteuil’s former lovers who wronged and embarassed Merteuil, in order for Valmont to take her virginity and thus ruin her as a prospective bride. Of course, Valmont, ever the womanizer and proud of his reputation as such, has his own plan to seduce Madame de Tourvel, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, merely as a challenge to himself and as yet another of his conquests. Things, as they are wont to do, begin to go awry, especially when Valmont ends up falling for Tourvel, and all their carefully-made plans begin to unravel. Now, I had very little knowledge of the plot going into the film, since from what I thought I knew of it, it didn’t seem particularly interesting. I expected it to be a tawdry affair, frit with overindulgence and affluence, with production value exceeding even Merchant-Ivory’s expectations. That’s basically what this has, but imagine my surprise when, not even ten minutes into the film, Close and Malkovich’s characters meet, and almost immediately begin planning things wicked and awful. Intrigue! Suspicion! Seduction! Manipulation! All of these things and more were on the characters’ minds, and the rest of the film became this chess game where their plans either were met, which necessitated the furthering of plans, or they weren’t, which meant a bit of improvisation on their part, which was also a treat. Needless to say, it was when the train of their scheming began to derail that the film really became alive, and you just know that this is going to be one of those films that’s going to end in an absolute trainwreck, but a fully justified and dramatically satisfying one. As for the technicals, what more can be said; they were lavish to the umpteenth degree, but it was thanks to the plot that the excessive production value came across almost as a parody of the genre, and they became that much more enjoyable as a result.
I didn’t get into the acting, which was uniformly excellent across the board, and director Stephen Frears even managed to coax a usable performance out of Keanu Reeves as the young innocent Chevalier Danceny, but rest assured; damn near everything in this production was top-notch, and what’s more, it was top-notch in all the right ways, instead of being top-notch just for the sake of being top-notch like Merchant-Ivory pictures. It was well-utilized, and channeled into a production that was actually worth the time put into it, because of the dynamite story and all the intrigue that came with it. To half-repeat what I said in the opener, I went into this expecting just another lavish aristocracy tale, and came out of it bowled over by what the film had given me; this is so much more than just another aristocracy film. If your apprehensions were or are along the same lines as mine were, rest assured; this is definitely worth the watch, especially if you’re a fan of the seedy characterization and malevolent interplay that basically defines the film. Deliciously entertaining.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10