Valmont (1989)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film  |   Release Date - Nov 17, 1989 (USA)  |   Run Time - 140 min.  |   Countries - France , United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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There are only two explanations why Milos Forman put his own spin on Les Liaisons Dangereuses, just a year after the superior Stephen Frears version: that rival interpretations of similar ideas have always tended to hit theaters in close succession, and that he'd already started making it, so he might as well finish. Valmont is an entirely forgettable affair, populated by actors who are inferior to those cast in the 1988 Best Picture nominee Dangerous Liaisons -- even Keanu Reeves feels fondly remembered when Forman's choice for the Chevalier Danceny is the kid from E.T. (Henry Thomas). The best way to describe Forman's eclectic cast is "unusual." No one in either film speaks the novel's native French, but at least Frears opted for high-minded dialogue and sophisticated accents, both genre staples. Forman inexplicably favors a looser, less poetic, more American vernacular staging of events, and cast members Fairuza Balk and Meg Tilly are unfortunate byproducts of that decision. The one actor who does seem in his element, British native Colin Firth as Valmont, suffers from a severe lack of charisma -- supposedly one of his character's great weapons. His blundering attempts to seduce Tilly's Madame de Tourvel, which include flopping around in a lake and pretending he's drowning, give no indication why such a moral woman should be unable to resist him. There's also something seriously wrong with Forman's tone as the story approaches its Shakespearean climax. Instead of building intensity to the momentous duel, the film peters out with a whimsical bit involving Valmont, two peasants, and a dog. Annette Bening probably fares best as the Marquise de Merteuil, but the fact that the film spends much more time with her, despite naming itself after her rival, indicates the depths of Forman's confusion. Amadeus it's not.