Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Directed by Stephen Frears

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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In the last years of the French monarchy, the Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) asks the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) to deflower a young convent educated girl, Cécile de Volanges (Uma Thurman). Although both the former two delight in seduction, Valmont refuses to do as the Marquise requests unless she agrees to spend a night with him if he succeeds in his efforts. Meanwhile, however, he is also devoting himself to seducing the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), who presents more of a challenge.

Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons is a well made, captivating movie that readily engages the viewer with its wonderfully vicious characters and immerses him in their various machinations and affairs.

Few films are really evocative of another age or place. Most merely present the viewer with characters with the same values and concerns that persons inhabiting the country and time where and when the movie was made have. Dangerous Liaisons, however, transports the viewer to another world, that of late Eighteenth Century France, so that he is able to submerge himself in a land rigidly divided between a ruling aristocracy and those who serve them, where religion is still an important force, but where men indulge in all the pleasures they enjoy today. He is shown a place where some members of the nobility carelessly gratify their whims and pride themselves on their jaded sophistication, but where others adhere to traditional morals and abhor the behaviors of their loose living contemporaries.

Not only does Dangerous Liaisons conjure up a bygone age, but it is also consistently lovely. There is hardly a moment of the movie in which the viewer is not presented with some beautiful image or another. Whether the gorgeously garbed and elaborately made up characters wander through formal gardens, or rest in lavishly furnished rooms, or walk below the façades of their opulent mansions, they are sure to fascinate the moviegoer with their elegance, just as the world they inhabit bewitches him with its own beauty.

What is more, the performances of most of the actors are mesmerizing. Malkovich and Close are both delights as the scheming Valmont and Merteuil. Uma Thurman brings out all of her character's lusty innocence, her fearful hesitancy, and her eagerness to experience bodily passions. Sadly, Swoosie Kurtz, who plays that girl's mother, Madame de Volanges, is somewhat stiff, as is Keanu Reeves, who portrays Cécile's awkward and shy lover, the Chevalier Danceny.

Lastly, I must concede that I was a little disappointed by the film's final moments. The ending, in which several of the characters get their comeuppance, imposes upon the tale an unnecessary moral that detracts from the sense of wicked fun it elsewhere arouses. While the conclusion certainly does not spoil the movie, it does diminish its appeal, even if only slightly.

In spite of its shortcomings, Dangerous Liaisons is a deliciously cruel, consistently beautiful, and usually well acted film. It may be flawed, but it is still a pleasure to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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