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Black Widow

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Black Widow

Starring: Debra Winger, Theresa Russell
Director: Bob Rafelson
Rated: R
RunTime: 102 Minutes
Release Date: February 1987
Genres: Drama, Mystery, Suspense

*Also starring: Nicol Williamson, Sami Frey, Dennis Hopper, Terry O'Quinn, D.W. Moffett, Lois Smith, Mary Woronov, Rutanya Alda, Diane Ladd

Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

In the early 1990s it seemed that Hollywood producers like to make two very distinctive types of thrillers. One, obviously inspired by smashing success of Demme's SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, dealt with demonic yet efficient and hyperintelligent serial killers. Another one, spawned by BASIC INSTINCT, used, or to be more precise, shamelessly exploited sex or sexual themes in the plot. The former one is still popular, the latter one have already reached its peak and turned to straight-for-video land. However, more than a decade ago, and long before such explosion, there was a movie that fused both of those elements, and did it more seriously. It was BLACK WIDOW by Bob Rafelson, that used a very old film noire motives and gave it a completely new and modern twist.

The villain in this movie is Catherine (Theresa Russell), beautiful, charming and intelligent woman that seduces and marries a whole bunch of wealthy men only to have them mysteriously die few months later. After collecting inheritance money, she disappears, takes new identity and begins her deadly scheme all over again. Her modus operandi, however, brings the attention of Alexandra Barnes (Debra Winger), workaholic Justice Department investigator. After obsessively tracking down Catherine all over the country, Alexandra finally reaches her at Hawaii. Catherine there wants to pull the same stunt on Paul (Sami Frey), local tycoon. Knowing that she would have to catch Catherine red handed, Alexandra meets her and tries to strike a friendship, not knowing that Catherine has some suspicions too.

One of the things seldom seen in Hollywood is a thriller that has two strong female leads. In case of BLACK WIDOW that shouldn't surprise anyone, because the screenplay writer Ronald Bass prefers strong female characters in his works. In BLACK WIDOW both of the female leads are portrayed as superior to all the men they encounter - Catherine as a skilful sex manipulator that could fool anybody, and Alexandra as hard-working law enforcer always step ahead from her colleagues. Very good performances by Theresa Russell and Debra Winger give their characters a lot of contrast to each other - Catherine is rich, beautiful and cool, and Alexandra is poor, plain and always nervous. But when they finally meet, sparks fly and unusual attraction develops between them, only to be finally and explicitly addressed in one very scene.

Unfortunately, good characterisation don't solve all the problems, and one of the problems in BLACK WIDOW is unconvincing plot. There are too many loose ends and some implausibilities, including totally clich‚d ending scene. Sami Frey as exotic foreigner and potential love interest is also very bland. Other actors are more than fine, although they have limited screen time - especially Nicol Williamson, James Hong and Terry O'Quinn. Photography by Conrad L. Hall is very good, and it has a very good use of beautiful Hawaiian scenery. Musical score by Michael Small with its dark themes is a nice contrast to the visual beauty of film. Editing is good, and Rafelson's direction spotless. However, although definitely worth watching, BLACK WIDOW at the end leaves a bitter taste of missed opportunities.

Copyright © 1998 Dragan Antulov

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