Saturday, March 13, 2021

Movie Reviews: Fatale

Fatale
directed by Deon Taylor
This new thriller is a neo-noir which compares well with the forties and fifties noir films that are its ancestors and somewhat less so with the Shannon Whirry and Shannon Tweed eighties and nineties erotic thrillers that are its more immediate antecedents. The title (and much of the story) reminded me of the femme fatale often found in such films and the Michael Douglas/Glenn Close movie Fatal Attraction. You have seen the themes and plots in this movie before. However, as some storytellers insist, perhaps ultimately there only a few archetypes which are repeatedly shared. I thought that this story was well acted and generally well written. 
There are a few things which are obvious to the viewer which aren't obvious to the protagonist. In these movies the protagonist is not usually a man who is filled with rectitude. He's a man who makes mistakes.  You might even say that he's a man who indulges some sins. But in noir films the protagonist is often not the worst person depicted on screen. He's usually a man who thinks, often accurately, that his choices are few or constrained. Thus, like many people in real life, the noir protagonist has to choose what he sees as the least bad outcome. 
The viewer must turn off his/her moral judgment for the film's running time. People in these films are self-interested. They take shortcuts. And sometimes they do even less moral things.
Derrick Tyler (Michael Ealy) is a Los Angeles sports agent who has built up his business such that larger white owned management companies are starting to see him as a competitive threat. Derrick is motivated not just to become wealthier and more powerful but to prove to the world that Black people can be as successful off the playing field as well as on it.  
Derrick doesn't like anyone telling him to what to do. If he had wanted to be an employee somewhere he wouldn't have struggled and fought to build his own business. Derrick's partner Rafe Grimes (Mike Colter from Luke Cage) understands that. However Rafe notes that the money the friends are being offered to sell the firm is now beyond the you'll never need to work again point and moving towards your children will never need to work at all level. So Rafe thinks Derrick might want to reconsider. 
Derrick has other problems. Derrick's trophy wife Tracie (Damaris Lewis) has been demonstrating some really nasty disrespectful attitudes towards Derrick. Tracie has also been more frequently absent from home. Tracie insisted on keeping her realtor position though her earnings are dwarfed by Derrick's. Tracie explains these recent absences as required by her realtor job. At night. Yeah. So Derrick can't help but wonder if another man is rocking his chair. Is there another king bee buzzing around Tracie's honeypot? Is another mule kicking in Tracie's stall? Is another crosscut saw buried in Tracie's wood? Is another...well you get the idea.
When Derrick and Rafe attend a friend's Las Vegas bachelor party, Derrick shares his fears with Rafe. Rafe advises that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. 
Thus primed, Derrick cozies up to a friendly woman named Val (Hilary Swank) wearing a low cut dress. They chat. They dance. Val is interested and says so. Derrick is interested but not so interested that he wants any drama coming back to him. Derrick tells Val that his name is Darren and that he's from Seattle. The duo return to Val's room where they do the do. A lot. 
The next morning, when a more rational and guilt-ridden Derrick attempts to leave Val's room, he finds that Val has locked his cell phone in the room safe. Val won't give Derrick the combination until he gives her what she needs. Again. Swank portrays this demand as teetering right on the boundary between erotic and dangerous. It could be either or both. 
Likely feeling justified in having used a fake name, Derrick does what he needs to do, gets his phone, and hightails it back to Los Angeles where he tries to repair his relationship with his wife. 
Derrick and Tracie suffer a home invasion. There aren't multiple intruders, just one large masked man who seems more interested in killing Derrick than theft. The slightly built Derrick fights off the trespasser. When the police arrive Derrick is shocked to see that the head detective is "Val" or as her government id shows, decorated LAPD Detective Valerie Quinlan. 
Val is also shocked to see Derrick. And by shocked I mean Val's not happy that Derrick lied to her. Although Val tells Derrick she'll keep quiet, Val is obviously not done with Derrick. Val appears at odd hours to ask questions, tell Derrick in front of Tracie that Derrick seems familiar to her, or to ask Tracie questions in private.
Fatale has a fair amount of sex and violence. The director and writer(s) also weave in commentary on police abuse and political corruption. Fatale has many twists. The viewer may question who the true villain(s) is(are), which is normal for these type of movies. Tyrin Turner (Caine from Menace II Society) is Derrick's streetwise cousin who can always count on Derrick for financial assistance. Michael Pino (Law and Order) is Val's estranged ex-husband. 
Swank's Val is rarely obviously needy or unstable like the similar character in Fatal Attraction. Val won't boil any bunny rabbits or sit in a room turning the lamp on and off. But Val, professional or not, might see herself as a woman scorned. Ealy's Derrick is all furrowed brow and puppy eyes. Both Ealy and Swank make you sympathize with and wonder about their characters at different times. This film was good, not great, fun.
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