Last Seduction, The: John Dahl’s Neo-Noir Thriller, Starring Linda Fiorentino, Bill Pullman and Peter Berg

The Last Seduction features a strong, idiosyncratic heroine, though she is not exactly a heavenly creature. This neo-noir thriller is directed by John Dahl, who earlier this year scored big with Red Rock West.

Its protagonist, a viciously inventive dark lady–a lying and cheating tramp–is played with exceptional gusto by Linda Fiorentino, a tough actress who made strong impression in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, a decade ago.

The Last seduction is neither radical in form, like Pulp Fiction, nor innovative in style, like Heavenly Creatures. But it is voraciously erotic, exceptionally witty–an extremely enjoyable picture that stands in diametric opposition to Hollywood’s big glossy movies.

Dahl and his co-writer Steve Barancik have created their villainess as a contemporary version of the roles that Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity) or Jane Greer (Out of the Past) used to play in 1940s’ noir: A cunning and manipulative femme fatale with a strong sexual appetite. Fiorentino’s Bridget Gregory is a murderess and a thief, but she is also an abused wife, a woman who gets irritable if men don’t look at her the way she wants them to.

Indefatigably determined, she is contrasted with two weaker, rather sappy males: Her husband (Bill Pullman) and her lover (Peter Berg). As the story begins, Bridget cajoles her doctor-husband Clay into pulling off a drug deal. But refusing to share the money with him, she absconds it and takes off to a small town in upstate New York.

There, at a local bar, she meets Mike Swale (Berg), a naive insurance company administrator who believes his more sophisticated companion will help him escape his dreary existence. “You’ve been out there,” he says in admiration, “You came here and you chose me. I am bigger than this town.” A flashback to Mike’s past reveals that his former attempt to break away and move to Buffalo ended dismally.

Bridget makes it clear that she isn’t interested in a relationship—only in having good time–but Mike keeps deluding himself that she does care about him, that with time he can tame her into middle-class domesticity.

Dahl has made noir his specialty; his first, still under-appreciated effort, Kill Me Again (1989) was noir and so was Red Rock West. Dahl knows what a good noir needs to have in order to be entertaining and, in this respect, The Last Seduction has more than its fair share of treacheries, deceits, and sleazy intrigues. However, unlike other young directors obsessed with noir, Dahl avoids the genre’s visual cliches. Hence, he locates his stories in small towns or suburbia; most noir films are set in the Big City (usually Los Angeles).

Obviously, a movie like The Last Seduction depends on a central charismatic performance, which it definitely gets from Fiorentino. This charming, though not exceptionally beautiful, actress delivers some delicious lines, lethally targeted at her hubby or lover. The contrast between Fiorentino’s dragon-lady demeanor and the dormant civility of her suburban surroundings is cleverly played out.

The Last Seduction is an amoral black comedy with a selfish, ruthless monstress at its center. As such, she joins the ranks of Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon) Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Greer, and more recently Kathleen Turner (Body Heat).