To Die For
Gus Van Sant
As far as the cast is concerned, To Die For is pretty great. As the bubbly, ambitious, murderess/weather girl, Suzanne Stone, Nicole Kidman gives one of the finest performances of her wildly divergent career. I shutter to think of another major Hollywood actress who has delivered more of a range of performances and film choices than Kidman has—for better (Dogville, The Others), worse (The Stepford Wives, The Paperboy), and up for debate (Eyes Wide Shut, Moulin Rouge!). The supporting cast—particularly Illeana Douglas as Suzanne's figure skater sister-in-law and Joaquin Phoenix as one of the juvenile delinquents Suzanne hires to kill her husband (Matt Dillon)—is also uniformly wonderful. Look for a cameo of sorts by David Cronenberg near the end of the film.
In terms of satire though, it's pretty limp. I struggle to call it "dated," but its commentary on celebrity and fame has become an inescapable subject since the dawn of the Internet. Television satires like Network or The Truman Show still feel viable and relevant, even if TV has changed significantly since their release, but To Die For ultimately has very little to say that doesn't sound rather obvious nowadays. Gus Van Sant does provide some excellent touches in the film, notably the homage his makes to Howard Hawks' Scarface with two tiny X's reflecting off Suzanne's blue eyes as she delivers the weather forecast the night her husband is murdered (pictured above). To Die For almost rises to the occasion (pun sort of intended) when the U.S. National Anthem puts Suzanne into a trance as she realizes the murder of her husband doesn't just lift the weight off her "shooting star" but places it in front of more cameras than she ever dreamed. This is hardly an epiphany for anyone familiar with the current trends in "unscripted" television and tabloids, but Van Sant and Kidman's combined efforts do stand tall here, if only for a glimmering moment.
With: Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Illeana Douglas, Alison Folland, Dan Hedaya, Holland Taylor, Wayne Knight, Kurtwood Smith, George Segal, Susan Traylor, Maria Tucci, Tim Hopper, Michael Rispoli, Buck Henry, David Cronenberg