Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA/United Kingdom, 1988. Lorimar Film Entertainment, NFH Productions, Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Christopher Hampton, based on his play from the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. Cinematography by Philippe Rousselot. Produced by Norma Heyman, Hank Moonjean. Music by George Fenton. Production Design by Stuart Craig. Costume Design by James Acheson. Film Editing by Mick Audsley. Academy Awards 1988. Boston Film Critics Awards 1988. National Board of Review Awards 1988.
There are so many plush costumes, so many opulent sets, so many terrific plot maneuvers, fantastic snippets of dialogue and juicy performances that you just don’t know which to celebrate first. In Christopher Hampton’s pristine adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which he first adapted to the stage before it reached film, a lethally vengeful Marquise (Glenn Close) entreats her best friend Valmont (John Malkovich), a well-known seducer, to help her achieve revenge on an ex-lover. She asks that Valmont spoil the purity of a virginal, convent-educated girl (Uma Thurman) whom her ex has chosen for his bride, thereby embarrassing him in front of all Parisian society when his bride shows up on her wedding night a master of sexual arts. Malkovich takes the task on, but also announces that he has a conquest of his own: he plans to tear down the high-minded piety of a faithfully married aristocrat (Michelle Pfeiffer), a victory which would go down as among his greatest. Stephen Frears clips it all along at a terrific, pulse-pounding pace that you would never expect from a period piece, and never shirks from delighting in all the unapologetic evil that these characters indulge in before they get their deserved comeuppance. Intelligent and elegant, it succeeds in no small part because of the performances. Pfeiffer is heartbreakingly vulnerable and a tower a strength and a million things in between, Malkovich sexually acidic, and Close so very cunning and smooth that you will find yourself grateful to have a screen between you and her machinations. A masterpiece on all levels.