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De Palma’s Femme turns fatal

The craft of filmmaking is a creative and boundless art. That also means, however, that the limitless possibilities for innovation also leave plenty of room for an abundance of faux-artistic slip-ups. Arguably, the worst of which is the dreaded “half film.” This is when a film starts out with so much promise, only to be slowly and completely destroyed from the middle of the film until the end by some dreadful filmmaking lapse.

The new film Femme Fatale is, if nothing else, a testament that a good film can easily turn horribly wrong.

Femme Fatale, the newest film from master-director Brian De Palma (Carlito’s Way, Scarface), is a noir-style mystery that begins with amazing potential but surprisingly gives way to a horrifically drawn-out and implausibly confusing theme.

The plot begins quick and exciting at the Cannes Film Festival with the theft of a lavish $10-million-dollar top made of diamonds by way of a steamy lesbian encounter in the women’s bathroom — needless to say it was quite an eye-opening scene.

Lily (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), the woman who stole the diamonds, spends the first part of the film trying to find a way out of Paris while hiding her identity from the associates she double-crossed.

That is the storyline of the first half of the film. At this point, De Palma has reinforced his directorial genius.

De Palma, who also wrote the film, leads his characters in multiple suspenseful sequences that are elaborated with his patented split-screen film technique, first-person camera angles and a slight, yet constant camera pan that makes for a very creative and interesting opening 45 minutes.

The splendid cinematography in Femme Fatale is also supported by an outstanding musical score.

None of these factors, however, convey De Palma’s true genius. No, his brilliance relies on the fact that he has managed to put one of the world’s most beautiful models (who hasn’t a sliver of acting ability) into his film as the main character without her ever having to verbalize more than one sentence at a time during spans of 15 minutes or more — and he pulls it off exceptionally well.

But all of De Palma’s work goes for naught thanks to his complete lapse of quality filmmaking during the film’s second half. Lily returns to Paris with a new identity that is immediately compromised by the likes of paparazzi photographer, Nicolas (Antonio Banderas). Nicolas is involved in a deadly game of deceit through his relationship with Lily. He must figure out her motives while she is trying to blackmail the man who essentially saved her, elude her old acquaintances and stay two steps ahead of a past that is constantly figuring in her future.

The latter portion of the film suffers from various creative illnesses. The movie begins to slow down, lagging to piece together a vague, collapsing plotline. Romijn-Stamos begins to get regularly involved in dialogue, which becomes a sad comedic venture in itself.

De Palma seems to abandon his directorial technique altogether, instead relying on a handful of rather tantalizing, borderline-pornographic Romijn-Stamos scenes. The ultimate nail in the coffin for this film is the embarrassingly dull finale, which ironically is supposed to be a shocker.

Femme Fatale could have marked the comeback for De Palma, whose legendary directorial technique became alive once again during the commencement of the film and continued until the halfway point.

Unfortunately, the severe crumbling of the film from the midpoint until the end is beginning to mirror the career of this once great filmmaker.

Contact Nick Margiasso at

‘Femme Fatale’ is Rated R and opens Friday.