Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale, the first film he has both written and directed since 1992's Raising Cain, is a triumph of style over logic. Although this is not necessarily a good thing, it works spectacularly in this instance and also goes to show that today's young crop of thrill-happy directors have a lot to learn from an old pro like De Palma.
The director's naysayers often criticize his worship of Alfred Hitchcock while failing to see the self-possessed pirouettes he executes across Hitchcock's immense shadow. Detractors also frequently fail to appreciate his ability to make us shiver in the dark and turn the most mundane objects into lethal weapons.
If De Palma has borrowed from other directors in Femme Fatale, he'll have to press charges against himself. With its motifs of doubles, voyeurism and paranoia, the film brings to mind such earlier De Palma works as Sisters, Dressed to Kill, Body Double, Obsession and Blow-Out rather than his more recent Hollywood mega-muddles like Mission to Mars and Mission: Impossible. It's a tribute to Femme Fatale that its many convenient coincidences and logical leaps don't matter much in the scheme of things, as De Palma's elegantly sumptuous visuals pull us along like Homeric sailors bewitched by the Sirens' song.
Femme Fatale is about a woman (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) whose past as a con-woman comes back to haunt her. But the less said about the plot the better. It should be enough to know that the opening image is a close-up of a TV broadcast of Double Indemnity, the film noir classic of double-crossing intrigue. The camera pans to the lusciously reclining Romijn-Stamos as she rouses to set in motion the film's showpiece opening sequence, set amid the ceremonial pomp of the Cannes Film Festival. It's a wower involving elaborate jewel-thievery, lesbian sex in a sparklingly clean powder room, chases and getaways.
No other director has employed Rebecca Romijn-Stamos with such panache. The blank countenance and limited dramatic skills of the supermodel-turned-actress are used to amplify the mystery and duplicity of Laure (who is also sometimes known as Lily). Antonio Banderas is fun as the paparazzo thrust into the eye of this storm ' like the protagonists in Body Double and Blow-Out, he is inadvertently drawn in by the truth of the cinematic evidence he captures.
Anyone who caught the TV version of Carrie the other night knows how hard it is to make (or remake) a De Palma film. Femme Fatale is not the director's best work ever, but it is as good as anything he's done in a long time.