To Die For (1995)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Black Comedy, Film a Clef, Media Satire  |   Release Date - Sep 29, 1995 (USA - Limited), Oct 6, 1995 (USA)  |   Run Time - 107 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Tart, entertaining, and just off-center enough to please longtime fans of director Gus Van Sant, To Die For is that rarest of creatures: a subtle satire that actually works. Quasi-documentary footage, out-of-sequence chronology, plenty of foreshadowing, and artful little flourishes keep the film from devolving into shrillness or camp, like the similarly themed Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom. Nicole Kidman deserves every bit of credibility she earned with her note-perfect performance as a power-hungry manipulator dripping with middlebrow condescension behind a careful WASP facade. Telescoping media-savvy truisms into disturbing manifestos, Kidman's Suzanne Stone voices the average American's TV aspirations, but takes them to their logical, yet monstrous, extreme. Underneath the surface, though, To Die For is as much about subtle class prejudice as it is about the media. To that end, a ridiculously rich supporting cast helps Van Sant milk Buck Henry's screenplay for every nuance and laugh. Joaquin Phoenix, Illeana Douglas, and Alison Folland are the standout players in a cast that also includes fine work from Matt Dillon, Holland Taylor, Dan Hedaya, and Wayne Knight. At this point it's not even worth pointing out that To Die For seems smarter and more prescient with every passing year; like Network before it, the film is full of tabloid outrages that already seem quaint compared to the current media landscape.