Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

[7.0]

It’s 18th century France and everyone’s the Vavavoom de Floofenberg dressed to the nines and powdered like a doughnut. Yes, Dangerous Liaisons is one of those dreaded costume dramas. But like any good one, if you strip away the gilding and highfalutin language, it’s really a tale as old as time — modern, even.

Glenn Close is a horny, devious widow who employs her horny, devious ex-lover John Malkovich to deflower Uma Thurman, the virginal but soon-to-be horny bride-in-waiting of the only man who ever scorned her. But this level of sexual manipulation is far too easy for treacherous aristocrats with infinite time on their hands. So they add to the bargain. If Malkovich can simultaneously make the prudish Michelle Pfeiffer into a raging horndog for his codpiece, then Glenn Close will have to spend one night with him. Of course nothing ever works as planned. Thurman becomes horny for Keanu Reeves, Malkovich develops actual feelings for Pfeiffer, and Close may even develop feelings for Malkovich. People die, hearts are broken, c’est la vie.

Dangerous Liaisons is a fun movie if you can follow the quick exposition and keep track of who is who. Close chews the scenery without much effort. Her acting provides a powerful finale and her scenes with Malkovich are all highlights. Pfeiffer and Thurman play such earnest innocents, the film becomes all the more diabolical for having them so deceived. Oscars went to Christopher Hampton’s adapted screenplay, art direction, and (of course!) costume design. The film also features terrific cinematography and direction by Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Grifters).

Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Actress (Close), Supporting Actress (Pfeiffer), Score (George Fenton)