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To Die For

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: To Die For

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix
Director: Gus Van Sant
Rated: R
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: September 1995
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Matt Dillon, Casey Affleck, Illeana Douglas, Alison Folland, Dan Hedaya, Wayne Knight, Kurtwood Smith, Maria Tucci, Buck Henry

Review by Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

I'm sure there was some media case these past few years where some beautiful woman seduced a teenage boy and convinced him to kill her husband. It sounds like based-on-a-true-story TV movie fodder to me and even if I'm mistaken about that, it was still a minor subplot in WAYNE'S WORLD 2. But no matter what veteran comedy writer and performer Buck Henry's inspiration was in scripting this movie (besides, of course, the novel it was based on), TO DIE FOR is definitely an entertaining black comedy that hovers somewhere between scathing satire and sex-killer thriller material.

Nicole Kidman plays Suzanne Stone, a beautiful woman who is prepared to pour all her effort into becoming "the second Diane Sawyer" in the TV journalism world. Shortly after meeting and marrying a man (Matt Dillon) whose parents are "pillars of the Italian-American community" (translation: Mafia), she gets her foot in the door at a small public access cable channel, doing midnight weather reports before the national anthem comes on, signifying the end of the broadcast day.

By this point we know she really isn't any good at her craft, but that's not important. She has an amazing tenacity and dedication, from sleeping with TV executives on her honeymoon to presenting Wayne "Newman" Knight (the cable station head) with a list of impeccable references for a part-time secretarial position. She eventually wears down his resistance to where he lets her do the weather forecasts and work on a documentary chronicling the life and views of three teenage losers.

Of the losers, one is an insecure, overweight girl who idolizes Kidman, another is a juvenile delinquent who was forced into participation in the documentary as punishment, and the third lusts after her hopelessly (as do we all). Kidman knows exactly how to play all three like a fiddle, offering one sex, one money, one companionship and all three a future life of luxury with her in Hollywood.

All they have to do in exchange is remove the one obstacle standing between her and stardom. That obstacle, naturally, is her husband. Kidman's character doesn't have much of a reason to kill her husband, who is painted as faithful and dedicated to her success, but the ultimate motivation for the murder -- and everything else Kidman does -- is her unwavering commitment to success in the broadcast field. And the fact that she's nuts.

The story is told in flashback, mixing in the dramatic scenes with footage of Dillon's family on a daytime talk show, documentary footage of Kidman telling her own side of the story and interviews with the three kids and Dillon's ice skater sister. Henry's choice to tell the story of a documentary gone wrong in documentary format was a shrewd one. TO DIE FOR, on the whole, is an incredibly clever movie. It succeeds as a subtle satire of media influence instead of beating us over the head with its message as Oliver Stone did in the painful-to-watch NATURAL BORN KILLERS.

Copyright 1995 Andrew Hicks

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