Laure (Rebecca Romijn) is involved in a daring robbery staged at the Cannes Film Festival. During a premiere, she has to meet a model who is adorned with diamonds, and seduce her in the ladies' bathroom while her boss steals the jewellery. All does not go to plan, and Laure ends up escaping with the loot; now she has the gangsters on her trail, which leads her to be thrown off a high balcony by one of them. By sheer luck, she survives, and has an opportunity to adopt a new identity...
This tortuous, credibility-straining thriller was scripted by the director Brian De Palma. Starting with Laure watching Double Indemnity on television, he makes it clear that he is paying homage to the film noir anti-heroines of the past - as if that title wasn't enough of a giveaway. And he piles on the style right from the opening, with the robbery shot in a sleekly elegant fashion that nevertheless doesn't conceal the unlikely coincidences and impossible-to-plan-for conveniences that occur. It's this tone you have to adjust to if you're going to get on with Femme Fatale.
Once Laure has her new identity, she flies to America, and, as luck would have it, she meets an American millionaire (Peter Coyote) on the plane. We then skip forward seven years to discover that Laure, now calling herself Lily, is wife to the millionaire, now U.S. ambassador to France. She never allows herself to be photographed, for obvious reasons, but this is where a paparazzi photographer (Antonio Banderas) enters the story. He's determined to get a picture, and when he does, he becomes entangled in a kidnapping plot - or does he?
De Palma throws every trick in his book into telling the tale: double identities, the leading man playing the patsy, swooping camerawork, slow motion, split screen, lush orchestral music (courtesy of Ryuichi Sakamoto), twists and turns and even thunder and lightning. But this all suffocates the plot, and you will either be hanging on the characters' every word to figure it out, or lose patience early on.
The first forty minutes contains hardly any dialogue to explain itself, and, with the double-crossing in between, there is a twist by the finish that makes Femme Fatale look less like Double Indemnity (as you've been expecting) and more like Run Lola Run. This change from a celebration of an archetype to a musing on destiny and the consequences of choices we make is difficult to take, and highlights the artificiality of the whole thing. You have to admire De Palma's cheek, though - in this variation, the femme fatale gets a shot at redemption.
He's not aversed to directing blockbusters such as Scarface, The Untouchables and Mission Impossible, but Bonfire of the Vanities was a famous flop and The Black Dahlia fared little better as his profile dipped in its later years, with Passion barely seeing the inside of cinemas. Even in his poorest films, his way with the camera is undeniably impressive. Was once married to Nancy Allen.