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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Palmetto

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue
Director: Volker Schlondroff
Rated: R
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: February 1998
Genres: Noir, Suspense

*Also starring: Gina Gershon, Tom Wright, Michael Rapaport, Chloe Sevigny, Laird Stuart, Angela Featherstone

Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

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 his stuff.

'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 in prison.

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 of exceptions.

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

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