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Nicole Kidman

"To Die For": A Killer Diller

October 7, 1995
Web posted at: 1:30 a.m. EDT

From Movie Reviewer Carol Buckland

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- "To Die For" is full of dark-hearted humor and dead-on observations about how far some folks will go to get their fifteen minutes of fame. It's based (very loosely) on the best-selling novel by Joyce Maynard which was inspired (at a distance) by a real-life murder case.

Although the story unfolds in flashbacks and is told from multiple points of view, the star of the show is Suzanne Stone. She's an aspiring "media professional" who wants to be on TV in the worst possible way.

Nicole Kidman takes the role of Suzanne and she is brilliant. For those who know her only as Tom Cruise's wife and occasional co-star, this flick will be a stunning revelation. Even those who are familiar with her non-Cruise work (most notably, "Dead Calm") are likely to be astonished by her performance. Who knew she could be this funny? Who knew she could be so twistedly sexy (like dry ice, she's so cold she burns)? And who knew she could nail an American accent so beautifully? Kidman looks like a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. (1,165K QuickTime movie)

Matt Dillon does a fine job as Suzanne's caring but essentially clueless husband. He buys her Barbie doll blond facade without ever realizing that her plastically perfect exterior hides an empty, evil soul and a raging ambition. He also never guesses that he's condemning himself to death when he stands in the way of her search for "success." Also very good is Ileana Douglas, who plays his sister.

The most remarkable member of the cast is Joaquin Phoenix (brother to the late and lamented River). He's cast as one of a trio of grungy teens who Suzanne seduces into bumping off her hubby. Frankly, it's hard to tell how much Phoenix is acting here and how much he's just "being." In either case, his portrayal resonates -- raw, in many ways, but achingly real. There's one point in the film when he passionately yet pitifully describes Suzanne as "clean." It's so sad. So stupid. Yet Phoenix makes the audience believe he means it with every fiber of his hormonally-overwhelmed body and his none-too-functional brain. (3,910K QuickTime movie)

Buck Henry (who's wasted in a not-particularly-effective turn as a high school teacher) wrote the script. It's wicked. It's witty. It's full of nasty twists. There are some holes--most especially the notion that someone like Suzanne would marry a Joe Six Pack sort of guy in the first place -- but it works overall.

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Gus Van Sant's direction is very, very smart. From the slick opening credits to the sly closing sequence, just about everything works.

"To Die For" is a funny movie, but it scores some serious points about our celebrity-driven society. It's highly recommended.

This film is rated R. That's for sexual content, language and some violence. This is definitely a flick for grown-ups.

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