Rule Number One in life - never mess with someone who's got nothing to lose. It's an immutable law of the animal kingdom, not to mention the only reason raccoons still exist as a species. But as humans we forget that size, strength and ability are often nothing in the face of ravenous intent. When someone is willing to destroy themselves to get what they want out of you, it might be a good idea to just let them have it. The problem is, what works in nature is often less cut and dry in the city. Everybody knows raccoons just don't care. Unfortunately, they're harder to spot when they're in human form.
Viking Night: The Last Seduction
By Bruce Hall
July 17, 2012
Case in point, the Clay and Bridgett Gregory. Clay (Bill Pullman) is a small time hood who might have been an aspiring pharmacy student at one time but as we all know, school is hard. So he ekes out a living writing illegal prescriptions for junkies and drifters. He's relatively bright but has no talent for crime, not to mention an angry, unstable side that he keeps just below the surface. Write this down somewhere now - Clay is the most normal person in this movie.
His wife Bridget (Linda Fiorentino) manages a fly by night telemarketing outfit and is what you might call a "brutal ice queen,” if you were trying to be nice. She stalks the floor, cigarette in hand, belching smoke and epithets, and browbeating her crew like a boxing coach. Clearly, it would take a desperate person to consent to such unforgiving work. Long hours in a smoke filled dungeon, selling defective merchandise to unsuspecting rubes while some bitter shrew barks at you like a junkyard dog is no way to make a living. Bridget is smart enough to know this, and she wants out. She's a demanding woman who loves the finer things in life, but has come to resent Clay's inability to provide them.
So, she convinces her husband to borrow a hundred thousand dollars from a loan shark, use it to procure some pharmaceutical grade cocaine and flip it for almost ten times the price. The plan works, and Clay returns home flush with pride and heavy with almost one million dollars in cash. When Bridget berates him on a minor point of execution, he responds by giving her the Pimp Hand and jumping in the shower. It's at this point that Clay violates Rule Number One, and he pays for it dearly when Bridget takes the money and runs. The way you can tell she's mad is that she doesn't leave him enough to pay back the loan shark. So within 24 hours Clay is nursing a broken thumb, and a burning lust for revenge.
It's like I've always said - nothing ruins a relationship faster than money. Am I right?
Meanwhile, on the advice of her attorney Bridget picks a place to settle down and lie low. She chooses the town of Beston, New York. It's a quaint little suburb of Buffalo where nobody locks their doors, everyone has a flag on their front porch, and every sentence begins with "please" and "thank you.” Even the drunks are friendly, and no doubt even Andy Griffith would get run out of town for being too edgy. But there exist martyrs even among saints, and in this case that would be Mike Swayle (Peter Berg, before he moved behind the camera), who just rolled into town after a disastrous attempt to start anew in Buffalo. Mike is a hopeless dreamer whose heart compels him to make rash decisions. He loves to talk about his feelings and desperately romanticizes about meeting a woman strong enough to pry him away from Beston.
He gets his wish when Bridget stops in for a drink, and on a dare he approaches her. Gender roles get thoroughly bent as Mike attempts to pick her up, only to find himself inspected like a head of cattle and literally led back home by his own junk. Bridget rocks him like a Springsteen show, raids his refrigerator, makes some long distance phone calls and abruptly leaves. That would be that, but for the fact that as part of her plan to blend with the locals, she unwittingly lands a job at the same insurance company where Mike works. He moons over her, smitten by their tryst and insistent that they become a couple. Most women would find that repulsive, and Bridget is no different. But like your grandpa used to say, any sociopath worth a bag of lemons knows how to make those lemons into lemonade.
So Bridget makes some very delicious, very crazy lemonade.
Fully aware that Clay has tracked her to Beston, she quickly enacts Plan B. By weaving an elaborate web of lies, petty theft and hot monkey sex, Bridget concocts a plan to use the insurance company's resources, Mike's unprecedented sensitivity, and Clay's unbridled aggression to turn the odds back to her favor. You can see it all unfolding well in advance, and with the exception of one or two genuinely surprising twists, it's obvious how things are going to turn out. In fact for the most part, the last 30 minutes or so feel about as contrived and routine as a Scooby Doo mystery. But it's all part of the fun. The surprise isn't the ending, it's how far certain people were willing to go to GET there.
Desperation is the name of the game here, and the winner will be the one who's got it gnawing at their guts the hardest. Clay knows he's an inadequate man. It's probably the reason he's so angry; so eager to prove himself to Bridget first by stealing for her and then by hunting her down like a dog. Bill Pullman brings his trademark bag of nervous tics to a role that doesn’t quite get enough screen time, but still provides the film with ample comic relief. Bridget feels entitled to wealth and power, and is content to take it from whomever she must, however she has to. Fiorentino is simply outstanding, slipping into the role of Black Widow like a well worn pair of slippers.
For her family’s sake, I pray she’s only acting. Seriously.
And poor Mike - he's just a nice guy with a big fuzzy heart who just wants to be cherished. He's in way over his head and like most needy people, taking stupid risks makes him feel proactive. This is probably Peter Berg’s most thankless role (at least until he directed “Battleship”); you want to punch him in the face as he stumbles from one unfortunate decision to another. What initially seems like an uplifting presence quickly becomes a sort of sacrificial lamb. These are all damaged people, but Mike’s demons scream the loudest and drag him down the furthest. His childlike need to trust and be loved by everyone he meets has burdened him with a dark secret. And when he lays his heart bare to the woman he thinks he loves, he becomes her mark...and it’s not pretty.
The Last Seduction is Noir Redux - so much so that if you watched it in black and white it might feel perfectly natural. It is a sadistically wry black comedy first and foremost, and whatever mystery there is in the story is of the easy to follow, paint-by-numbers variety. This isn't meant to be a challenging film; rather, its intent is to evoke the same trashy sense of intrigue you get from classics like Double Indemnity or The Big Sleep. It's John Dahl’s best film (Rounders not withstanding), as well as a wonderful, guilty pleasure - like having beer and pizza for breakfast, or buying yourself a flat screen TV instead of paying your mortgage. It's the kind of movie they don't make many of anymore, but they should.
And Linda Fiorentino should be in as many of them as possible.