The talent that Woody Harrelson has in entertaining movie audience's is
that he has an endless amount of daffy charm and exuberant personality
that it makes him one of the few actors that has made a successful
transition from the small screen to the big screen. After an Oscar
nomination for 1996's 'The People vs. Larry Flynt', Harrelson has earned
the respect of his peers and is well on his way to a great career. When
I saw him in 1992's 'White Men Can't Jump', I was taken by his penchant
for playing losers and 'Palmetto' is a great role for Harrelson to strut
'Fargo'. A movie about a man who hires two thugs to kidnap his wife and
things go wrong. Do things ever go right in a crime movie?
'Palmetto'. Cleverly disguised as a 'Fargo' wannabe. Set in an
opposite climate ('Fargo' was set primarily in upstate Minnesota in the
dead of winter) and this movie is set in the steamy town of Palmetto,
Florida and the movie is different from 'Fargo' but strangely, for some
sub-conscious reason, I thought of 'Fargo' as I was watching this movie.
Woody Harrelson stars as a former convict whose conviction is over
turned after two years in the slammer and he is released. He's a
journalist who was framed for an article he wrote exposing political
corruption at the municipal level and he returns to his female companion
(Gina Gershon) and tries to re-capture his former life before jail.
Upon his release, he meets up with a sultry woman in a bar (Elisabeth
Shue) who propositions him to play a part in a kidnapping scam for which
he will receive 10% of $500,000.00. At first he turns down the proposal
but later finds it to be an irresistible way to pay "the system" back
for the two years of his life stolen by the justice system that kept him
The plan calls for Harrelson to act as the bag man in the kidnapping of
Shue's stepdaughter. Harrelson is supposed to act as the threatening
voice on the phone and will pick up the ransom money. There are many
plot twists and turns that will tease and tantalize the audience in its
running time of nearly two hours and the film has a solid plot, doesn't
suffer from over length and is unpredictable. Its underlining strength
comes from the fact that the film isn't over done and has basically only
two or three characters at the most on-screen at one time with a couple
Shades of 1981's 'Body Heat' and 1990's 'The Hot Spot' shine through but
director Volker Schlondorff's sure-footed direction is on-target and the
film is based on the book 'Just Another Sucker' by James Hadley Chase.
Gina Gershon's character is somewhat sedated and perhaps unnecessary but
the real surprise in this film is Elisabeth Shue who puts her best foot
forward since her Oscar nominated role in 1995's 'Leaving Las Vegas' and
her character is that of an evil woman with a slightly psychotic twist
combined with a feeling of superiority and lack of conscience.
Not a great film but a rigorously solid one, 'Palmetto' is a film about
white trash at its sleaziest. A good example of immorality played up
with little violence and a lot of sexual innuendo.
Copyright © 1998 Walter Frith