Blu-Ray Review – To Die For (1995)

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Gus Van Sant was facing a crisis after the commercial and critical failure of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. He was one of the hottest talents of the indie film world after Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho. To Die For came knocking and it was a way back into Hollywood but also quirky enough to satisfy his indie film flourishes. Van Sant would also meet the Afflecks and Matt Damon during the casting which would of course lead to his next film Good Will Hunting.

Nicole Kidman stars in To Die For and it turned out to be the first film in which she had some real acting chops. Kidman plays the overly ambitious local weather girl Suzanne Stone Maretto who dreams of television stardom. She is married to the Italian Larry Maretto (Matt Dillion) who is unambitious and she is growing unsatisfied in the relationship. She tries to make a documentary on some local teenagers but she has a more sinister motive than a simple exposé on teenage life.

Van Sant shoots the film in a mockumentary TV style but for the most it plays like a normal dramedy albeit one as black as Ayn Rand’s heart. It’s one of many ’90s films that deal with the desire to become famous no matter what it takes. Some other films that deal with this are Serial Mom and perhaps most successful and satirically Natural Born Killers. Unlike those films it’s partly inspired by the true story of Pamela Smart and the film has aged extraordinary well and seems less farfetched as it once did in the eve more celebrity obsessed world we live in now.

The cast is exceptional as is always the case with Van Sant; Kidman is exceptional as the manipulating Suzanne and she is relishing is being this wicked, it’s a shame she doesn’t get these kind of meaty roles more often. The extremely young Joaquin Phoenix plays the dim-witted teenager Jimmy Emmett who she has an affair with. Phoenix is really the finest actor of his generation and even here you can see early promise, it would have been interesting if Van Sant cast him in his inflated Psycho remake as Norman Bates instead of Vince Vaughn. Casey Affleck plays one of Jimmy’s friends with a horrible ’90s haircut which has to be seen to believed. Matt Dillion is always reliable and the wonderful Illeane Douglas plays his sister Janice, she is probably best known for her role as the art teacher in Ghost World.

To Die For is a transitional film for Van Sant and remains one of his finest forays into Hollywood filmmaking but with his strange stamp of Americana all over it. It would also mark his collaboration with composer Danny Elfman who has done the music on most of his films from then onwards. Kidman has rarely been better and it has a fantastic mixture of satirical humour and small-town Sirkian melodrama that works wonders.

Ian Schultz

Genre: Crime, Comedy | Distributor: Network | Relate Date: 11th May 2015 (UK) | Rating:15 |Director:Gus Van Sabt |Cast: Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck |Buy: [Blu-ray]