A scandalous, often-censored literary sensation for two centuries and a highbrow international theatrical hit, Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been turned into a good but incompletely realized film.
This incisive study of sex as an arena for manipulative power games takes too long to catch fire and suffers from a deficient central performance.
Choderlos de Laclos’ 1782 epistolary novel expertly chronicled the cunning, cold-blooded sexual calculations of the French pre-revolutionary upper class as represented by two of its idle, brilliant members, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont. Former lovers, these two ideally matched players hatch schemes of deceit, revenge and debauchery.
The classic rake, Valmont (John Malkovich) at the outset is challenged by Merteuil (Glenn Close) to deflower a 16-year-old virgin, Cecile de Volanges (Uma Thurman), before Merteuil’s former lover can go through with his marriage to the exquisite adolescent.
Valmont considers this too easy, however, and instead proposes to seduce Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), a virtuous, highly moral married woman.
Glenn Close is admirably cast as the proud, malevolent Merteuil while the real problem is Malkovich’s Valmont. This sly actor conveys the character’s snaky, premeditated Don Juanism. But he lacks the devilish charm and seductiveness one senses Valmont would need to carry off all his conquests.
1988: Best Art Direction, Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design.
Nominations: Best Picture, Actress (Glenn Close), Supp. Actress (Michelle Pfeiffer), Score