For those of you who have seen this and are looking for a message, I can say that the brutal facts of life, that is to say, an animal existence, will out. Whether we are talking about sexual desire and sexual release, or about reproduction--especially that--it is the fundamental animal drives that control our lives and dictate our actions.
This movie offers nothing beyond that, and it shouldn't. It is perfect as it is. There is no phony sentimentality to entice us to delusion, or any sort of Hollywood ending. There is no redemption here. There is no spirituality. There is only desire and fulfillment; desire and frustration; desire and the end of desire which comes with... The movie doesn't say.
I don't know if this makes my top ten of the nineties--I have seen a lot of movies--but it makes my most memorable. I will not forget this stark performance by Katrin Cartlidge, who plays Claire Dolan. She does not have the charisma of a great actress, and the range of what is required here is limited, but within that range she is stunning. A good part of the credit surely goes to director Lodge Kerrigan, who emphasizes the tight, washed out lines of desperation on her face, along with her intense sexual desire and the stark, rapacious environment of the urban jungle in which she plies her trade. This is a movie that might well be viewed following Pretty Woman (1990). I wonder how many people who allowed themselves to identify with Julia Roberts as a whore, would like to identify with the high class prostitute of this film. Could they even watch it?
I was mesmerized by the sharp cuts and the film verité editing, the effective use of line and shadow, sound and silence, the clean, focused camera work. Our modern cities in all their indifference--the hard concrete and steel, the harsh lighting and intrusive sounds--are captured brilliantly. The script, cut lean and without comment, surprises us by turns, and keeps us on the edge of our seat throughout. The sex scenes are raw, intense and numerous. This is not a film for the kiddies. And that is an understatement.
Vincent D'Onofrio, who is an actor of suburb balance, plays the cabby who loves women, especially perhaps those in great need of his love, and he plays his part with subtlety and control. Colm Meaney plays the psychopathic pimp, a brutal man without conscience who uses force when necessary and a kind of cheap charm when it isn't. He has the type of the animal trainer, who plies the whip and the carrot, which he uses on women. Note well how Kerrigan has ironically emphasized this despicable man's ability to reproduce himself, making him the father of four children.
If I could sum up the life that Claire Dolan leads, I would say she lives among the wolves with a burden...her sexuality. She has a flat affect, strangely bereft of normal human expression. She is a kind of woman seldom seen on the silver scene, presented without an ounce of sentimentality. She feels life most strongly through sexuality, and only smiles at the result of sexual behavior, children. There is something profound in the realization that she is only really freed from her almost maniacal desire when she is with child. Meaney's character says he has known her since she was twelve and she has always been and always will be a whore. She will die a whore, he says. If true--and again, the movie lets us decide for ourselves--the question is, how did she become that way? The implication is that she was led or forced into prostitution at twelve. That is why she cannot feel about sex the way others feel, and that is why she finds it so difficult to feel affection for others. Hers has been an animal existence. She is always on her guard, and she shies away from a world that seems always about to hurt her brutally.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!"