Top positive review
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'Dangerous Liasons' with a fresh, funny, modern twist
on 4 May 2011
This is a smart and sassy update of the 18th Century novel 'Les Liasons Dangereuse', relocating the action from Pre-Revolutionary France to the catty and privileged teenagers of the Upper East Side, New York. The book has already been made into a play and a movie (by Christopher Hampton) and has a surprisingly modern feel which means it lends itself remarkably well to an update.
Ryan Phillipe acquits himself well in the challenging role of Sebastian Valmont, the sophisticated womanizer with a bad reputation and a heart of gold (well, sort of). He has the difficulty of having to seduce, shock, appall and charm the audience in equal measure. Phillipe is suitably lively, brooding and outrageous and pouts exquisitely in a way that would make even Chuck Bass proud. But despite his character's questionable morals, he still achieves a likeability and a sincerity, and no matter what he does, his antics are certainly entertaining.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is a surprisingly effective mean girl, and exudes an icy, deadpan power as she unashamedly manipulates everyone around her. Her performance is subtle and controlled and always keeps the other characters (and the audience) at arms length. However, I felt I never 'warmed' to her like I warmed to Valmont (and ended up rooting for him, despite his bad behavior) which was perhaps intentional.
Annette, who is first Valmont's conquest and then his love interest, is brought to life quietly and sincerely by Rees Witherspoon, who radiates natural goodness. She is a stark contrast to cold, calculating Kathryn and provides a breath of fresh air which is badly needed in a movie which is populated by such manipulative people. Witherspoon is especially talented at sharing her thoughts with the audience through only a single look. The part where she pulls faces at the brooding Valmont also revealed a comic and endearing part of her character.
The various dangerous liasons and verbal sparring contests are framed by truly beautiful locations and costumes. Kathryn is often dressed in severe blacks and icy blues, emphasizing her cold and dark nature. Annette, her polar opposite, wears pale, comfy jumpers and shirts which distance her from the artificial world of New York. The production aimed to marry the world of 18th century french aristocrats and modern, coke-addicted and oversexed teenagers. This is mirrored in the design which mixes old fashioned items such as diaries, corsets and grand country manors with comtempory New York. The results are slightly eclectic but not unpleasing. A special mention has to go to the Director of Photography because the lighting was beautiful. Warmth and darkness were used effectively to create a strong atmosphere for the drama to unfold in.
All in all, it is an entertaining and attractive film which even occasionally aspires to the social satire found in the original.
Watch this if you liked: Dangerous Liaisons  [DVD] , Clueless: "Whatever!" Edition [DVD] or Gossip Girl - Season 1 [DVD].