Starring: Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix
Director: Gus Van Sant
Running Time: 106 mins
To Die For is an American film about a woman with big ambitions for a career on TV, and she won’t let anyone get in the way of her rise to stardom.
This film is the very definition of black comedy. Disturbing and terrifying it may be, but Gus Van Sant’s To Die For does an amazing job at making all of the scariest elements of watching a narcissistic madwoman hugely entertaining. Van Sant’s directing is excellent, as is the screenplay, but it’s Nicole Kidman’s performance that really makes this film.
In general, this is a very good film, but without Kidman’s incredible acting, it wouldn’t be the hugely memorable experience that it is. It may have been in the early years of her Hollywood career, but I have to say that I’ve never seen such a good performance from Nicole Kidman as this, as she brilliantly disguises her character’s true insanity through two hours of hugely impressive acting.
The film centres around Susanne Stone, a woman who it seems will stop at nothing until she achieves her goal of being a big TV personality. The film starts off with a montage looking at how bad Stone can turn if someone gets in her way, and that has a huge impact on your perception of her across the following two hours.
It’s an ingenious opening to the film by Van Sant, as it makes Nicole Kidman’s performance, which starts off as the pretty young woman trying to make a name for herself, look all the more sinister, and that contributes to the deeply unsettling tone that dominates the movie for the rest of its duration. However, the way in which Nicole Kidman almost overacts as this clearly egotistical madwoman really adds to the comedic value of the film.
Of course, this is very rarely a laugh-out-loud comedy, but because Kidman makes Susanne Stone seem like such a hyperbolic and cartoonishly evil personality, it makes watching her sinister motives and manoeuvres all the more entertaining, and that’s why this is such a memorable watch beyond a simply dark and dull thriller.
I thought Nicole Kidman was absolutely mesmerising in this film, however she’s not the only person that makes it such an engrossing and exciting watch. Gus Van Sant’s directing is pretty flawless throughout. As I’ve said, he balances the dark drama and the black comedy brilliantly, but he also pulls off a series of hugely original techniques to make this an even more unique watch.
Whilst largely a flashback narrative, half of the film is set out in the style of documentary, with interviews from the people who were affiliated with Susanne Stone during the time that the story unfolded. A half-narrative, half-documentary is a very original concept, and one that I think worked very well, but the most effective result of the technique is that it gives you a window into Stone’s life, but not from her perspective.
So, this isn’t a movie that focusses on Stone as a sort of anti-hero, because from the interviews given directly to the camera from the supporting characters, she is the villain. As a result, you never sympathise with her as she goes through her various evil machinations to get on television, but instead watch on in fear and horror, which was genuinely impressive to see.
Overall, I really liked To Die For. On the whole, it’s a very good film, with strong directing, an intriguing story, and an effective tone. However, the big stand-out is definitely Nicole Kidman’s mesmerising central performance, making this film not only an impressive black comedy, but one that I’ll definitely remember for a long time to come, and that’s why I’m giving To Die For an 8.0.