Director: Stephen Frears
“Frears leads us into the boudoirs and drawing rooms of the wealthy aristocracy, each one dripping with elegance and wickedness in equal measure.” (763, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I actually came to Dangerous Liaisons fairly late in the game – and more importantly after having seen the modernised remake that is Cruel Intentions (1999, Roger Kumble) What remained with me is how close the two films actually are. However if I was to choose one to watch it would always be Cruel Intentions. Now that’s not to say that Dangerous Liaisons isn’t any good. Far from it. Dangerous Liaisons is sumptuous and rich, full on intrigue and questionable morals, coupled with absolutely gorgeous period costumes. Throw in a stellar cast and you have the perfect recipe for an enjoyable film.
“Glenn Close steals the show as the vicious and vindictive Marquise de Merteuil, whose main enjoyment in her bored, rich life is to conspire with the equally cynical Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich).” (763) The companionship of Glenn Close and John Malkovich is only heightened and strengthened by their competitive nature. They’re continually trying to one up each other, which with their complete lack of compassion for other people just makes for an interesting narrative. Michelle Pfeiffer is the perfect mixture of naivety and backbone to avoid becoming nauseatingly simpering – something that could have too easily happened with her character. There is something about the combination of the aristocracy and their callous nature that is fascinating to watch – you don’t like these characters but you can’t help but watch their machinations with a sense of both disgust and admiration for their gall to behave in that way.
I know I mentioned it earlier and technically it isn’t in the book but I couldn’t leave a review of Dangerous Liaisons without doing a quick comparison to Cruel Intentions. I don’t know if it is because I watched Cruel Intentions first or if it is the more modern setting of the story but I can connect more with Cruel Intentions than Dangerous Liaisons. The setting is modern-day New York city although admittedly still situated within the upper classes. Gone are the lavish period costumes and the ballroom settings to be replaced with the effortless elegance than seems to be synonymous with wealth. The characters are much younger allowing the narrative to be moved into the tumultuous setting of a high school. Despite some significant changes the thing that struck me is that so much of dialogue remains the same. And yet it is these significant changes that make the remake much more approachable for me as a viewer. The lavish nature of Dangerous Liaisons actually makes it much more fantastical, and therefore far more removed from my experiences. I also found the characters more forgiving and more relatable than their original counterparts. And let’s face it Ryan Philippe, Resse Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar are excellent in their roles, particularly Sarah which is such a departure from her role as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (arguably her most famous role, certainly at the time of this film!)
“A handsome look at lust, betrayal, and guilt, Dangerous Liaisons is both lavishly mounted and beautifully portrayed.” (763) As much as I enjoy Cruel Intentions I would still recommend Dangerous Liaisons as it is a stunning visual experience and the play between Glenn Close and John Malkovich is wonderful to watch. And then go watch Cruel Intentions and see how they compare.