Friday, May 27, 2011

Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan)

A gun and a femme fatale.

One hot night in a coastal town, a lawyer subtly forced himself quite capably into a married woman. He bought her a cherry snowball, they fell in love. The consumption of the pleasures of the flesh is their primary goal. They groped, gyrated and talked. The married woman quietly despises his husband, but wait, she wants his money and so do the lawyer. 'What about murder? The two agreed. But will it be a perfect crime? Can they pull it off?

These are the questions that echo all throughout "Body Heat", a more-than-impressive directorial debut for Lawrence Kasdan, writer of such blockbuster movies as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "The Empire Strikes Back". It really was quite ironic for a mainstream writer such as Kasdan, who established himself by creating proses for enjoyably superficial adventure and science fiction films, to explore so patiently, with two insidious and overtly sexual characters that made the film noir genre so darkly fascinating and strangely involving, the extent of a murder for a gain, from its conspiratorial planning to the burdening aftermath.

William Hurt plays Ned Racine, the error-prone lawyer whose womanizing ways easily makes him very vulnerable for manipulation and deceit. Hurt painted a character that may immediately look smart, witty and quietly reserved on the surface, but internally rambling with his own shortcomings and an unquenchable thirst for love. But he found that latter desire in the form of the initially distant but very sexual Matty Walker, played by Kathleen Turner with powerful complexity that seemingly re-envisions the legendary Barbara Stanwyck performance in "Double Indemnity" (although that may be intentional, as "Body Heat" was an indirect re-imagining of the said Billy Wilder classic). And along with that, the idea of the money he may get for offing Matty's husband (played by Richard Crenna. Yes, John Rambo's superior Col. Trautman) may serve as an easement to his first. Without readiness and barely an inch of a gut, the sluggish Ned finally agrees to conspire with Matty. But at what expense?

From those simple motives and without any cinematic contrivances in the murder itself, no additional disguises nor fleeting establishments all the way to the very deed, the film has able to carve an identity of its own in a haze of noirs that may easily look and feel the same: It opted for simplicity that is fueled with escalating intensity. Nothing complicated, nothing confusing, exactly just like how any potential criminals may prefer it to be.

Yes, there were some narrative nuggets that mainly serve as the plot's progressing points to weave the story well, but the consequentially enclosing sequences for Ned and Matty that follow their committed crime were purely founded by the two characters' deteriorating, though still emptily carnal, artificially romantic relationship, at least in the eyes of one of them (I wouldn't say who).

There were no outer forces, though Ned's friends and colleagues Lowenstein and Oscar (strong supporting performances by Ted Danson and J.A. Preston) are on a steady probe. No lawful deus ex machinas, no conscious editors or Lawrence Kasdan to pull the plug. Kasdan has already laid down a well-written material, so if it implies it's 'well-made', it is up to the molded characters to emphasize and internalize the film's core, and up to the actors to make it even more convincingly so.

Gladly, both shattered the limits of expectations. William Hurt and Kathleen Turner breath life into the film through their uneasy, sexually-charged interaction, while the atmospheric musical score by John Barry that highlights the film's moral sleaze, the watchful guidance of Kasdan himself and the artistic hands of cinematographer Richard H. Kline that harmonizes otherworldly fogs and warm color tones to render the clashing seediness and scorching liveliness of a heat-wave-stricken town added further effect.

Through that photography, not only did the two main characters breath life into the whole picture, but they also sweat dread. They have no choice but to absorb the natural heat, but to welcome the exceedingly tempting allure of money albeit a casualty, they surely have. Call it blood-drenched hedonism, but they preferred not to have any. For Ned, he had a choice to escape and give up, but he pushed on. Is it love or is it the money? Is it both or none?

As we question his motives, as we question hers (Matty), just like the great "Double Indemnity" and other great film noirs that dared to show the follies of crime and how the most perfectly executed one may also unexpectedly be the most flawed and stupid, our inquiries about a 'perfect crime' ceases to persist; there's already an answer, and the entirety of "Body Heat", it is.

The film is a haunting tale of where extreme desires may put people into just to make these a reality: in the edge of desperation, on the foolish side of manipulation and in the wake of dishevelment. And just when we thought that the moral tangles in the film would slightly loosen up a bit and the responsible ones are about to be completely punished, there's suddenly a victor, and what he/she has left behind, he/she could not care less.

Find out the character's gender for yourself, and whether you're a film noir/neo-noir viewing completist or just a simple lad whose spine tingles in the presence of a riveting narrative filled with carefully-placed twists and revelations, "Body Heat" is a must-see. Or watch "Double Indemnity" first then this, or the other way around. It will be very, very rewarding. Oh, and there's Mickey Rourke too.


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