Starring: Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Stephen Frears
Running Time: 119 mins
Dangerous Liaisons is an American film about two manipulative French aristocrats who make a bet on one seducing a soon-to-be-married young woman. But when the seduction leads to a deeper relationship, the bet soon derails.
Not all period dramas have to be about the intrigue and pomp and circumstance of high society. Dangerous Liaisons sets out to prove just that, but fails dramatically in a painfully pompous and arrogant showing of court intrigue and uninteresting romantic Machiavellianism.
This film is incredibly frustrating in its inability to capitalise on a story that could really stand out among most period dramas. With a harsh, deliberately mean-spirited tale of manipulation and egos, this story has a sharp edge, but the film forgets to wield it.
In that, Dangerous Liaisons comes off as little more than another period drama filled with court gossip and scandal, failing to bring the morals and character depth of its story to the fore.
The film’s visuals are undeniably impressive, with wonderfully lavish costume and production design. However, rather than adding to the potentially politically intriguing nature of the story, it only seems to serve as an added level of pomp and circumstance for the film to flaunt.
Couple that with irritating performances across the board – from Glenn Close and John Malkovich’s frustratingly haughty acting to the underwhelming ingenue turns of Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman – and Dangerous Liaisons becomes a far more unlikable film than even it is aiming to be.
A good point of reference for this film is the 1999 drama Cruel Intentions, which tells the story but in an updated setting. There, the story is imbued not just with a striking cinematic style, but gripping considerations of morality, as well as surprising drama that avoids the rather dull world of period drama scandal.
The two films are of course wildly different in style, but Cruel Intentions succeeds hugely where Dangerous Liaisons fails, delivering both gripping and provocative drama without an air of pompous arrogance.
As a result, I really found Dangerous Liaisons a frustrating watch. Certainly, it’s an impressive production based on a classic story, but it fails to adapt that story and tell it in an engaging manner. Instead, with too much focus on the scandal and facades of high society, it proves a dull, unlikable and pompous watch, which is why I’m giving it a 6.1 overall.