Linda Fiorentino is a smoldering revelation in John Dahl’s The Last Seduction (1994). Lithe and watchful and unfailingly competent, foulmouthed and manipulative, she has a quality missing from most on-screen femme fatales. Her Bridget Gregory is enjoying herself. She’s heartless–“You still a self-serving bitch?” asks her lawyer–but not joyless. There’s a visceral, Mamet-like pleasure in her work and her schemes, a naturalism to both her business professional get-up and her disheveled, acrobatic lust. She likes her life, and when she doesn’t–when she’s marooned in “cowtown” and missing New York–she works to fix it.
And in the midst of all her amoral, Machiavellian awfulness and even in the midst of all the lies, there’s a kind of brutal honesty. When easy mark Mike Swale (Peter Berg) falls into her orbit, he’s manipulated, but it’s hard to say he wasn’t warned. When the woman you’re sleeping with tells you she gets off on calling people to “playfully” set up murders for hire and you continue the relationship, really, you should know what you’re getting into.
Mike is, however, a little more complicated and a little more ambivalent than Double Indemnity‘s Walter Neff (who gets more-or-less name-checked here). He’s seething about his small town life but closemouthed about what happened when he briefly left it. His love for Bridget is part possessiveness over her city superiority. He is, crucially, afraid of his own desires, afraid of his own mistakes; he’s even easier to goad than he is to trick. He can be played much more successfully than Bridget’s husband, the wily, sleazy, deliciously energetic Clay (Bill Pullman), simply because he doesn’t initiate and he doesn’t perceive.
Clay, on the other hand, does both. When his quick, impulsive slap to Bridget results in her taking off with the $700,000 he just stole, he realizes almost at once what’s happened. He gets on the ball, hiring a capable PI and using his knowledge of his wife to track her down. He furthers the plot more with his hands and feet cuffed and his mouth gagged than Mike can ever quite manage. He’s in the nice tradition of crime movie obstacles who are just a little more difficult than their scheming opposition initially thinks.
Bridget steals the money and winds up in the sleepy town of Beston, where the nervy, desperate-for-escape Mike becomes her “designated fuck.” He’s a way to blow off steam while she lays low and waits for the divorce to come through; it’s only after the divorce proceedings get complicated that Bridget starts to size him up for anything else. He wanted more… and he gets it.
The plot is cleverly constructed, with Bridget’s plan unfurling to us sometimes in advance of the action and sometimes right as it’s playing out on-screen. And it would be impossible to outshine Fiorentino’s delectable, hard-edged central performance. But Dahl injects the movie with lots of spot-on little touches, too: the way Bridget’s visitor at work is repeatedly identified as “the black man” by her disconcerted white coworkers, the way the bartender refuses to serve a stranger without a “please,” the way Clay has to go through a whole pro forma conversational exchange with the junkie’s he’s writing prescriptions for to “verify” that other methods didn’t work for them… It’s a smooth, nearly airtight movie that seduces and pleases.
The Last Seduction is available free on Amazon Prime.