Leave it to Gary Cole to turn in yet another woefully underrated, quietly superb performance for which he'll probably never get anywhere near the credit he deserves. He gives just such a performance in "When Love Kills: The Seduction of John Hearn," a must-see for any Gary Cole fan, especially those who remember his stunning performance as Captain Jeffrey MacDonald in "Fatal Vision," a performance for which he was praised but was never praised enough.
Anyone who has followed Gary Cole's career in television and feature films knows that he has often found himself relegated to supporting roles in which he is forced to bury his talents, though he shines in each and every one of those roles nevertheless. In his leading role in "When Love Kills," Cole utterly nails the fatal character flaw that exists in any man -- in Everyman -- who's ever fallen for a crooked dame so hard he can't see straight and gets sucked so deeply and swiftly into the bottomless pit of her sexuality and greed that he loses himself entirely.
Don't be misled by the "TV-lookingness" of this film; it's classic Film Noir in plot, in message, and in execution. Marg Helgenberger's crooked dame is deliciously campy, bossy, icky-sweet perky, and spot-on deadly, her chirpy malevolence a perfect balance for Cole's Man in Search of a Fatal Obsession. These two are so good together in the sex scenes in "When Love Kills" that you'll be tempted to wonder if they weren't doing a number with each other off the screen as well; now, that is good acting!
I've just seen this movie (made in 1993) for the first time on the Lifetime Channel in 2004 and fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Sure, you could hack away at it for various reasons -- maybe it's a tad too long, maybe a few scenes could have been slightly better, and maybe the man in the moon is a lady -- but do yourself a favor and give it a chance. Especially give Gary Cole a chance to do what he does so well and always does when he sinks his teeth into a role like John Hearn: He plays it to the hilt, grabs you by the throat, and doesn't let go even after the end credits are rolling.
"When Love Kills" is surprisingly intense despite its made-for-TV patina and limp title. It manages to do a better job than many other films I've seen in describing, believably and chillingly, the Descent into Darkness any man takes when he lets his Little Head do his "thinking" for him. There are several scenes in "When Love Kills" that are real nail-biters, but nowhere is Gary Cole more riveting than in the scene where, having realized that he's been played for a sucker by Helgenberger's maniacal femme fatale, he faces his own demons in a motel room shower.
I continue to be amazed that Gary Cole isn't routinely whispered about as a "great" actor along the lines of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro because he thoroughly deserves the same whispers. I also continue to be amazed at the number of people who blow off a made-for-TV movie just because it was made for TV.
If you blow this one off, you'll be missing a film that's much better than you'd think.
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