To Die For (1995) Poster

(1995)

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9/10
A great performance by Nicole Kidman Warning: Spoilers
If you would like to see a really great performance by Nicole Kidman, pick up a copy of "To Die For" at your local video store. Directed by Gus Van Sant, screenplay by Buck Henry from the book by Joyce Maynard (both Henry and Maynard have bit parts in the film), "To Die For" is a wicked little gem of a film.

Kidman won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress for her performance, and frankly I thought she should have gotten the Academy Award (unless I remember incorrectly, I don't think she was even nominated for an Academy Award for it). But she is absolutely brilliant in it: chilling, funny, scary, sexy, and horrifically evil.

Kidman portrays Suzanne Stone-Maretto: a devious, calculating, self-centered woman who manipulates Larry Maretto (a very sympathetic performance by Matt Dillon) into marrying her, quickly tires of him when he tries to stand in her way of her greatest ambition in life, which is to be the next Diane Sawyer, and soon convinces her teenage lover to kill him for her. Sound familiar? "To Die For" was loosely based on the real-life story of Pamela Smart, who seduced her 15-year old lover into murdering her husband.

Joaquin Phoenix is Jimmy Emmett, the hapless student who becomes Suzanne's lover; Lydia Mertz is Alison Follard, a young girl who idolizes her; and Casey Affleck is Russel Hines, another student who gets caught up in the scheme. Illeana Douglas is great as Larry's acidic, loving sister Janice, who also gets one of the best lines in the film, and at the very beginning, no less; and Dan Hedaya is Larry's father, Joe Maretto. Dan Hedaya is a master of the "Believe me, you don't want to see me mad" performance, with obvious menace just under a calm surface. The casting is great, and the performances are all right on target.

Look for uncredited cameos by George Segal as a conference speaker, and David Cronenberg as...you'll just have to go see it.
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9/10
This one will stay with you a little bit
DeeNine-24 August 1999
Clever story with more depth that appears at first blush, directed with irony and a sardonic sense of humor by Gus Van Sant. Nicole Kidman plays an especially shallow TV weather person who gets some grunge kids to kill her husband for her. Her motive is, as Illeana Douglas, who plays the sister-in-law, says, "he got in her way." This is a nice study of narcissism metastasized into psychopathology. She is headstrong, motivated and rather stupid. She thinks only of herself and would do anything for herself and would do anything to anybody who got in her way. And amazingly, she does.

Matt Dillon is wasted as the husband (in more ways than one). I'm surprised he agreed to do the part. Kidman is mesmerizing and makes us believe in a slightly unbelievable character. We've all known narcissistic little darlings who would kill you for the right shade of eye shadow, but to see it acted out so coldly and with such appalling stupidity, yet with a psychology so bizarre that it has to be real, fairly takes your breath away. It was especially apt that she had him killed so that her pointless little docu-drama "Teens Speak Out" could become newsworthy enough for national exposure. Consicously she doesn't realize this: she has no introspection; she just acts.

Also cute is the way the picture is framed: a pseudo-documentary within a pseudo-documentary. Everything is so well orchestrated that when Kidman gets her surprising, but entirely appropriate comeuppance at the end, we are quite pleased.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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8/10
One of the most underrated films of the 1990's
atlasfalcon29 March 2003
A lot of people dislike To Die For. The film's detractors largely find fault with its tone and subject matter. It is really the epitome of black comedy, and anyone expecting either pure comedy or pure suspense will be very disappointed.

That said, To Die For deserves a place in film history as one of the sharpest satires of television and fame, ranking alongside films such as Network. Forgive the cliche, but Nicole Kidman's performance is truly a revelation -- she shows talents that were clearly invisible in earlier travesties such as Far & Away and are only now beginning to resurface. But the real discovery in this film is the magnificent Illeana Douglass. It is scandalous that few people mention her amazing work when discussing To Die For. If for nothing else, the film should be seen for the work of Kidman and Douglass. (Note also that To Die For has one of Joaquin Phoenix's earliest roles.)

As other commentators here have suggested, you are not guaranteed to love this film. Nonetheless, as far as I'm concerned, it's required viewing if you're a film fan.
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Black comedy at its finest
General_Cromwell28 October 2002
This is black comedy at its finest,a wonderfully incisive film.I've seen it many times and it gets better with every viewing.This is one of Gus Van Sants best films,right up there with Drugstore Cowboy.This was the film that proved Nicole Kidman was a force to be reckoned with.Its a brutally good part,and she doesn't waste it.Giving a genuinely unhinged performance,as well as a jaw droppingly sexy one.The performances are all excellent though,Dillon plays the poor dumb schmuck who doesen't know what he's let himself in for with ease.Joaquin Phoenix is great as probably the dimmest character in movie history!Best of all is Illeana Douglas as Dillons wonderfully cynical sister."What did i first think of her?-Four letters beginning with 'c',you know......cold!" This is beautifully put together using mock docu footage,flashbacks,and straight filmaking.Clever,intelligent,and razor sharp,films like this are all to rare.Look out for director David Cronenberg,in a wickedly good cameo!
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Nicole Kidman is to die for
StanleyStrangelove10 September 2005
Nicole Kidman's breakthrough film, indie director Gus Van Sant's tragic-comic tale of Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) a fame obsessed housewife who seduces three teenagers to get rid of her husband (Matt Dillon.) To Die For is directed in a pseudo-documentary style with some of the characters telling their story to the camera. Writer Buck Henry seems to be commenting on the superficiality of TV personalities, weather forecasters and talk show hosts with his references to Geraldo Rivera and Maury Povich and Suzanne's obsessive desire to be on TV.

The acting is outstanding from everyone. Nicole Kidman is the perfect choice for the seductress whose emotional age seems to be about ten years old and gives new meaning to the word "superficial." Joaquin Phoenix shows evidence of the star he would become. Alison Folland and Illeana Douglas are excellent.

I'm an admitted Nicole Kidman fan and this film shows her talent. She's also a gorgeous woman. Recommended.
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8/10
One of the few really good films of the modern era
mrsastor27 April 2007
I'm a little hesitant with my rating of 8 because this isn't really a film to be taken too seriously; having said that, I was glued to the screen and it holds up to repeat viewings so that says a lot.

It's peculiar that the closing credits of this film bear the usual disclaimer that "any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental" when the film is in fact the story of New Hampshire school teacher Pamela Smart, who did indeed co hearse a teenage student into murdering her husband in pretty much the exact same manner as depicted here. Writer Buck Henry has changed the characters name, occupation, and a number of the irrelevant details, but this is unmistakably the Pamela Smart story.

Played as dark comedy...! The heretofore unimpressive Buck Henry redeemed himself in my eyes with this wickedly amusing script.

While peppering us with the kind of mirroring observations about the shallowness and stupidity of the media and the society it reflects which makes us both laugh and squirm with more than passing discomfort, the top-notch cast masterfully play out the excellent script in such a mesmerizing fashion you simply will not believe nearly two hours are gone when it is over.

Nicole Kidman in particular displays intelligence and acting prowess I never imagined her capable of; she is in practically every frame of the film and while her character is truly despicable, you can't stop watching. The three teens, played by Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, and Alison Folland (who stands out as the easily led girl with a not too subtle lesbian infatuation on Suzanne Stone) are engaging. Perhaps the best of the cast after the lead is Illeana Douglas as the deliciously smart ass sister-in-law, she had me in stitches! From the opening credits of rushing reporters superimposed over headlines and newsprint, to the closing credits overlaid with the rather brilliantly selected Donovan song Season of the Witch, this one is a must see film from an era of otherwise bland cinema.
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9/10
90's Masterwork
st-shot9 March 2008
Gus Van Zant's wildly original take on the pursuit of fame at any price is a gruesome black comedy that works flawlessly on every level. Van Zant comes at his story from the viewpoint of a series of narrators who see through media lusting Susan Stone Marretto as she stops at nothing to bask in it's spotlight. The media in turn is more than willing to accommodate.

Nicole Kidman as Susan is intimidating beyond the screen as she narrates much of her story into the camera. In addition to her remarkable seductive charm being put to use she also intimidates with a convincing icy coldness. She is the bold and the beautiful and Kidman is perfect to the role.

Having bullied her way into a job as a weather forecaster at a small audience cable station Susan never stops shooting higher. She enlists three aimless high schoolers in a plot to kill her husband so as to unburden her to pursue her career. With sex as a tool it is easy to convince the moronically dim Jimmy who masturbates to her late night forecasts to come on board. The three teens Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck and Allison Foland are uniformly brilliant particularly Phoenix as the clueless doomed Jimmy. Her husband Larry (Matt Dillon)it might be said is in the same boat. Dillon along with Ileana Douglas and Wayne Knight fill out the solid supporting cast as narrators and victims of Susan.

Buck Henry's biting script shows he has not lost his edge since his Graduate days. Director Van Zant's vision of a fin de siecle cross section of America is brutal and original. From those laboring for the American Dream to the bleak Lidsville existence of the teens Die burns with both nervous energy and tragic-comic farce. Accompanied by an all inclusive period music score Vant Zant's wide angle is both brazen and revealing from gaudy colored suburban drab sterility with hints of incest to tragic siding housing and an auto graveyard landscape that serves as a playground to the teens. Told in flash forward and back Van Zant's pace never lingers for a moment as it rapidly presents an in your face comic and tragic pastiche of dark Americana. Van Zant admirably expresses it with a bold visual flair keeping scenes lean and sharp that over a dozen years later still retain there power and energy. It is a vibrant piece of film making and a 90s classic.
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9/10
Now Here's A Strange And Fascinating Story
ccthemovieman-130 August 2006
This is a different story and definitely interesting. The movie is listed as a comedy but it's more of a drama. Yes, the comedy is there but it's dark humor and there is violence and tragedy here.

Nicole Kidman is very good as the beautiful and ruthless blonde who has big television ambitions. I don't know if I ever saw Kidman look this pretty, which is saying a lot. Matt Dillon co-stars and is excellent, too, as are the two young no- name actors, Joaquin Phoenix and Allison Foland. Ironically, Phoenix, has become a big star, most recently playing the legendary Johnny Cash in "Walk The Line." When this movie came out, few people knew him.

Illena Douglas gives an underrated performance and I always enjoy the odd Dan Hedaya. Anyway, if you want to see something different in the way of a story, this movie falls in that category.
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10/10
Excellent!
ewa-1221 September 2003
This film is fantastic and Nicole Kidman was made to play Suzanne Stone.

It's an acute satire on American obsession with television and unreal picture of life that comes with it. It's extremely funny, moving and shocking at the same time. Also the way it was filmed and put together is quite original and suits the movie's main theme perfectly! Must see!
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8/10
You aren't really anybody in America if you're not on TV.
lastliberal6 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Buck Henry is a great screenwriter. He was nominated for an Academy Award for The Graduate, and he wrote one of the funniest movies I have ever seen, The Owl and the Pussycat. He can add this film to the list of great adaptations (Joyce Maynard's book).

Oscar-nominated director Gus Van Sant does some great films like Finding Forrester and Good Will Hunting. He did a great job here keeping the action moving along towards the inevitable, but cleverly disguised ending.

Now, to the dessert: Nicole Kidman. Yes, I know some think she is one-dimensional, but that dimension was perfect for this role. This was her finest hour and she was fantastic. A real beauty, she looked fantastic in this film, and the wardrobe enhanced her beauty to a dimension no other film has done for her.

Kidman was supported with some fine actors: Matt Dillon (Crash) as her husband, Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Gladiator) as her lover, and a favorite, Illeana Douglas (Grace of My heart) as the suspicious sister-in-law.

Hey, Suzanne, did you really think that some goombah wasn't going to come knocking on your door?
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8/10
Beware the Siren's song
petra_ste6 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Nicole Kidman is a fine actress. That was obvious long before her Academy Award - in fact, ever since her breakthrough role in Noyce's disturbing Dead Calm. While she does have range, she is at her best when she has to project icy, duplicitous haughtiness. Maybe that's why, of all her roles, I prefer this one.

In this Gus Van Sant movie she plays Suzanne, a narcissistic weather anchor who works for a measly local television but aspires to super-stardom and manipulates a trio of dumb teenagers (Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Alison Folland) into getting rid of her dead weight husband (Matt Dillon).

Nicole is fabulous here - so shallow and self-centered she is outright creepy, with the kind of low cunning displayed by smug people who don't really plan things through. But she never falls into caricature: there is a nice little moment right after she is hired when she is breathless with relief and embarrassment as the sexual favours she was expecting to be asked (and was ready to perform) never materialize.

And she does look dynamite - for those legs I'd probably shoot Matt Dillon too. Hey, I'd throw in even Kevin Dillon for free. Just kidding. Maybe.

The supporting cast is uniformly great too, from a wonderfully dense, glassy-eyed Phoenix as the teen killer to Illeana Douglas as the sister-in-law Janice who quickly sees through Suzanne's prim facade - when the two women meet and Suzanne suggests the work of a qualified plastic surgeon to get rid of Janice's facial blemishes, you know this means war.

7,5/10
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A disappointment
krumski11 February 2000
There are some good things here - most notably the performances of Nicolle Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix - that nevertheless fail to coalesce into a satisfying whole because of the confusion of the central story. Kidman is great as the feather-brained harpy who will stop at nothing to be on television - the absolute narrowness of her world-view to the parameters of what fits onto the TV screen makes her a kind of female counterpart to Jim Carrey's Cable guy. But her single-minded devotion to this aim causes her subsequent actions to make little sense: would someone as ambitious as her really stick around in a nowhere New England town (humorously named Little Hope) rather than set out for the big time of New York or Los Angeles? Such a transplant would have given the movie a kick, since it would have set Suzanne's fundamental cluelessness against the reality of the television industry and how it actually works (to perhaps more humorous results than are displayed here).

But even if you can buy Suzanne remaining in her isolated little hamlet (and it must be said that the setting does allow for some subtler, more understated humor than the scenario drawn above would have), does it make any sense whatsoever for her to get involved with, much less marry, the Matt Dillon character? If we're really supposed to buy her as someone who thinks about nothing but television and making it in that medium, then what could she possibly see in Dillon, who is barely even familiar with TV? Any explanation would probably be lame, but what's lamer is the fact that the filmmakers don't even try to supply one! This leaves you with the sick feeling that it only happens in order to get the plot moving - the worst possible reason for ANYTHING to happen!

This fundamental flaw in plot logic really sinks the movie before it even has time to get going. That's a shame, because there are SO MANY good things here: Kidman's performance is wonderfully perky and shallow in all the right ways, and the candy-colored outfits that have been designed for her are a scream just in themselves. The narrative style is inventive, being told in flashback as a series of interviews - "Hard Copy" style, or even "Oprah" style - with the main participants, which in itself forms a meta-critique upon television and its reconstruction of the world (although, curiously, the film keeps dropping in and out of this style, and so waters down its effect). Finally, Phoenix is at once both hilarious and heartbreaking in his portrayal of a trailer park teenager so besotted with Kidman and the sophistication she supposedly represents (the joke's on him, of course) that he'd literally do anything for her, which is exactly his undoing. Watching him, I kept thinking of Dustin Hoffman's groundbreaking performance in The Graduate and how it operated on the twin levels of satire and true sympathy all at once. Phoenix, in my opinion, hits the same bulls-eye.

Other enjoyable performances come from Ileana Douglas as Dillon's sister, wonderfully nasty and sarcastic when discussing Kidman (and then surprisingly touching and vulnerable when you're least expecting it) and Wayne Knight as the head of the cable station where Suzanne comes to work. If you know Knight only as Newman on TV's "Seinfeld" and so believe him only capable of wild over-acting, his performance here is a treat: his baffled and understated responses to Suzanne's dippy ideas and shenanigans are some of the funniest things in the picture.

But in the end it all comes to nothing. The good things in this movie just can't salvage the fact that the central story has not been worked out with enough rigor. The film spins its wheels beautifully, but it simply has nowhere to go.
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3/10
Not to die for at all
gcd7016 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Does anybody remember the T.V. movie "Murder in New Hampshire"? No? Well it's hardly surprising, considering it was a terribly dull, forgettable show based on a true story of a scheming, manipulative teacher who enticed one of her young students to kill her husband because she didn't like him any more.

With that in mind, it's hard to understand why a director of Gus Van Sant's calibre ("Drugstore Cowboy") would believe there was more to be gained from remaking this film with a slightly different angle, that of black comedy. Unfortunately Van Sant's film is not black, not humorous and not the slightest bit effective.

Nicole Kidman is really the only thesp worth watching, justifying all the rave reviews with probably her best performance to date as the ambitious, deceitful bombshell who wants nothing else but to be a TV. star. And if that means bumping off her strangling husband, then so be it.

In support of Nicole is an impressive cast headed by the hunky Matt Dillon, who plays the victim, a likable Italian guy with a big heart who falls for the gorgeous Sue Stone. Also stars Dan Hedeya, Illeana Douglas, Casey Affleck, Alison Folland and a most impressive Joaquin Phoenix, who gives the flick's other strong turn as the confused, unsure, but totally love struck teen whom Sue bends to her own will with ease.

What a shame the performances from Kidman and Phoenix are the only strong points of the movie. In his attempt to make a hip, observant film from Joyce Chopra's original, bland drama "Murder in New Hampshire", Van Sant has completely missed the mark. Having seen it all before doesn't help, but even if this isn't the case, our director has failed to create humour from any of the situations presented, and the script from Buck Henry hasn't nearly enough to get your teeth into. Kidman does her best in a role that, like an oasis, is surrounded by wide expanses of nothing.

Even the talking to the camera trick has no impact.

Sunday, March 10, 1996 - Knox District Centre
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3/10
To DIE for? Not worth crossing the road for.
Spleen29 August 1999
A black comedy that is neither black nor a comedy, this is no more a satire of, or any kind of comment on, the media, than `Melrose Place' was a satire of ... well, at least `Melrose Place' had the grace not to pretend to be about anything. The presence of video cameras in every shot does not give this empty movie even a theme, let alone a message. And if I hear the American national anthem being played ironically one more time ... I mean, really, is there any more sure sign of intellectual bankruptcy? Irony by itself is of no value; and Van Sant doesn't even get so far as to be ironic. We have the shell of irony without the flesh. We have people going through the motions of telling a joke or making a pointed remark when there's no joke and no point.

A story that might have served as the basis for a good movie is stretched out interminably with videotaped narration, pauses, rewinds and fast-forwards; although to compensate for all this mularky it ends abruptly, as if Van Sant ran out of tape. Characters are coldly slapped before us like bodies in a morgue. Perhaps someone mistook this lack of warmth for comedy, although I don't know that anyone actually laughed.

I admit it's hard to fault the acting. (Almost no film is ever spoiled by a poor performance - almost always a film is spoiled by something else instead.) The character of Janice even manages to elicit some sympathy now and then, partly due to the actress (Illeana Douglas), partly because most of the writing is, in a sort of a way, good, if you focus on the individual sentences and ignore the pattern they fail to form. Lydia, played by Alison Folland, would also be sympathetic if her character even approached consistency. She's the trailer park resident who's allegedly unattractive. I'd like to take this opportunity to remark that the attitude this film has to the poor is a sickening one: contempt masquerading as sympathy.

The movie would be distasteful enough to watch in any event. I've read over my comments and they strike me as being far too mild - this really is tawdry rubbish.
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7/10
Ambition and Manipulation
claudio_carvalho13 June 2016
In Little Hope, New Hampshire, the beautiful and hot Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) wants to be famous and is an aspiring TV personality. She marries Larry Maretto (Matt Dillon), whose father owns a restaurant, and convinces him to use this savings for the university buying a Mustang for her and a condo. Then she accepts to work for the local station receiving minimum wage to develop her own projects, including one with youths in a public school. She meets the punks Jimmy Emmett (Joaquin Phoenix), Russel Hines (Casey Affleck) and Lydia Mertz (Alison Folland) and records hours of tapes interviewing them. When Larry invites her to work at the restaurant in a talent show that he wants to implement, Suzanne sees a threat to her planned career and decides to get rid of her husband. She seduces Jimmy and convinces him that she is in love with him. Then she tells that Larry is a brutal man and Jummy decides to kill him. What will happen to Larry?

"To Die For" is a great tale of ambition and manipulation. Gus Van Sant uses the documentary style to show a beautiful and sexy woman that uses her limited intelligence and her body to reach what she has planned for her career. The cast has great performance and Nicole Kidman is perfect in the role of Suzanne Stone. The screenplay has a sort of black humor and the conclusion is ironical. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Um Sonho Sem Limites" ("A Dream Without Limits")
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8/10
Great Dialogue & Outrageously Funny
seymourblack-124 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Anyone who likes their comedy black will find plenty to laugh at in this hilarious story of a small-town girl who'll stop at nothing to become a famous TV news presenter. Told appropriately in the style of a television documentary, it satirizes society's obsession with fame, celebrity and television in a way that's sharp and smart but also incredibly funny. The idea to make use of flashbacks and interviews with people who talk directly into the camera is also extremely effective.

One of the movie's strongest points is its dialogue, which contains lines that make an immediate impact either because of their wit or because of the way in which they succinctly encapsulate the state of mind of a young woman who thinks that "You're not anybody in America unless you're on TV. On TV is where we learn about who we really are because, what's the point of doing anything worthwhile if nobody's watching? And if people are watching, it makes you a better person".

Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) lives in Little Hope, New Hampshire and is determined to become a top broadcaster on TV. She's attractive, smartly dressed and thoroughly self-absorbed. Her commitment to making progress in the TV industry is so strong that, on her honeymoon, she takes time out from being with her new husband to attend an industry convention where she meets and subsequently sleeps with a top network executive. After returning home she gets an entry-level job at a local cable station where, through her persistence, she soon becomes the station's evening weather girl and also starts work on a documentary about high school kids called "Teens Speak Out".

Suzanne's husband Larry (Matt Dillon) is a thoroughly nice guy who's deeply in love with her and manages his father's Italian restaurant. After being married for nearly a year, he thinks they should settle down to running the business together and raising a family. This idea doesn't sit well with Suzanne whose sole focus in life is to make it to the top in television. She decides that she needs to remove any impediments to the progress of her career and so, to that end, plans to have Larry murdered.

Suzanne is very manipulative and becomes increasingly friendly with three of the students who are participating in her documentary so that she can use them to kill Larry. All three students have their problems which she exploits to achieve her ends. She seduces Jimmy (Joaquin Phoenix) who's not very bright and is supportive to Lydia Mertz (Alison Folland) who's an overweight misfit and the promise of money wins the support of their friend Russell Hines (Casey Affleck). After the murder has been successfully carried out, Suzanne's documentary seems to provide the police with some useful clues but actually convicting Suzanne for the crime proves to be impossible.

The quality of the acting in this movie is so good that some of the most memorable contributions come from the supporting cast. Matt Dillon is tremendously natural as the guy who can't say no to Suzanne and says "she's it. She's the golden girl of my dreams" and Illeana Douglas as Larry's cynical sister who's not fooled by Suzanne, even for a minute, says she can describe her in four letters starting with a "c"....."cold". Dan Hedaya as Larry's Italian father makes a huge impression. He looks totally sceptical about his son's relationship with Suzanne and through most of the film looks as if he's going to explode with anger at any minute and there's also a superb cameo appearance from George Segal that's not to be missed.

Importantly, Nicole Kidman is sensational in her role. The way in which she portrays her character's combination of perky attractiveness and utter ruthlessness is tremendously well balanced as is the way in which she conveys how clever she thinks she is, whilst also demonstrating convincingly that she's a complete airhead.

"To Die For" is a great piece of filmmaking about a tragic character who, after being seduced and corrupted by the media, became so obsessed by its superficial values that she ultimately developed into a delusional, sociopathic monster. The fact that this kind of story could be made into such a successful comedy really is a great achievement.
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2/10
Terrible, terrible film that fails on almost every level
alafolle15 June 2000
A brief disclaimer: I usually enjoy weird indie films, black comedies, and social satire. So my distaste for this flick runs much deeper than a simple matter of personal preference, or not "getting" the point.

When I first saw "To Die For", I almost walked out of the theater. Upon viewing it years later, older and wiser, I liked it even less. Ordinarily, I would not waste my time panning an old movie, but I was appalled to see several slanderous reviewers comparing this piece of pretentious trash favorably to "Election" and "American Beauty", which were two of the best films of 1999. This heresy cannot be left unchallenged.

"To Die For" tries very hard to be a satirical black comedy, an art film, and a meaningful commentary on the sordid, media-obsessed culture we live in. It fails badly at all of these goals and rapidly degenerates into self-parody.

First of all, the movie had no characters... it had caricatures-- 2-dimensional, cardboard cutouts. While certain forms of satire can successfully utilize caricatures to represent certain types of people in society, these 2-D characters still have to display a certain amount of humanity in order for the viewers to see a reflection of something familiar. Nicole Kidman's character is such a cartoonish and transparent villain that it undercuts the point of the movie, and eliminates any chance at humor. I don't see anyone I know reflected in her character... I see Cruella DeVil or Natasha from Bullwinkle-- without the charm. Even the trashiest, most manipulative TV anchor trying to sleep/murder her way to the top would have to occasionally convince someone that her intentions are pure. Kidman doesn't. Reece Witherspoon in "Election" portrays an exaggerated, but recognizable character, and the satire succeeds in that film.

Apart from Joaquin Phoenix, the acting was atrocious. Kidman gives an uneven, wooden performance and appears to be reading from cue cards. Not a single character other than Phoenix was sympathetic or likeable. While this may have been exactly the message Van Sant wished to convey about America, he goes too far and the satire completely fails.

Van Sant wants to be taken seriously as an indie "artist", so he uses arty editing, sudden scene changes, and postmodern kitsch. But all of these efforts are so clicheed and ham-handed that it just comes off as pretentious. He wants to create an art-film parody of the American media. Instead he unintentionally creates a SNL-alum-type B-movie parody of art films.

"To Die For" does succeed somewhat at being sleazy, but not in any satisfying way. In the seduction scene, the lighting is so bad and Kidman's demeanor so cold and rigid that I felt the horniest teenage male in the world would be turned off in spite of her hot bod and racy lingerie.

This isn't even a "good" bad film which would be fun to gather around with some friends and a case of beer and watch in order to mock it. It's just plain terrible. I give it a 2 out of 10, merely out of respect for Joaquin Phoenix.

Of course, that's just my opinion. Some folks obviously feel otherwise.
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1/10
Most Overrated Movie Ever
himay33314 May 2009
Even it's current 6.8/10 stars is more than this drivel deserves. This movie received 2 thumbs up and the trailers looked interesting, so my buddy and I went to see it. This is one of the few movies I've ever thought about just getting up and walking out of. The only thing that kept me in my seat was the anticipation that the plot would finally take an interesting twist, or that something interesting at all would happen on the screen. After the movie was over I looked at my friend and asked him "Was that as bad as I thought it was?" he answered "Yes, that was the stupidest movie I've ever seen."

It's not like I don't like dark comedies - I loved Heathers, but this is no Heathers. I guess if you really like movies where you basically know what is going to happen next, and there are no characters even close to being likable or pitying, then you will like this movie. If this movie doesn't rank as my #1 worst movie ever seen, it definitely makes my top 5. The only thing that could possibly make this movie worth watching is if it was on an episode of MST3K.
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1/10
Slow, long, and boring
bill guts20 March 2001
This does not hold interest. The best appeal this movie has is Nicole Kidman. If not for her sex appeal, I would not have wasted my time all the way to the end of the movie. The climax is near the beginning of the movie, and even that was a disappointment. Go see a Pee Wee Herman movie to find more gripping suspense.
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1/10
Worst film ever
TheHig5 June 2003
This is the worst film I have ever seen. I absolutely hated it. Nicole Kidman plays the most diabolical film character ever. Apparently if you despise a movie villain, that means they've done a good job. However, if that was the case, you would have to empathise with the supporting cast. In this film , they are all the most undeserving of sympathy in cinema history. Who cares who dies? They all should, at least that would have left me with satisfaction. The best movie villains are the ones you can like, or have heroic individuals who you can support up against them. Instead, you get an egotistical lead, some slimy support and a detestable backing cast. Told in flashbacks, which is never a good idea, this film is appalling.

My Rating: 1/10, but if the site would let me 0/10
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5/10
Art imitates life
wrcong15 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a so-so film. It is reasonably entertaining and has some good performances. I am struck by something in reading 20 or so of the 92 comments on this film. None of them have noted one of the more important facts about this story: that is that "To Die For" is loosely based on a real-life drama that unfolded in New England involving a teacher's aide named Pamela Smart who was convicted of having enlisted her teen-aged lover and some of his dull-witted school mates to murder her husband. A&E's series "American Justice" ran a very good episode on the subject which they, in true A&E fashion, re-air periodically. It is fascinating to see what Buck Henry did with that true story in "To Die For." Jimmy Emmett, as written by Hery and portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, comes very close to Pamela Smart's real-life boyfriend (and I use the term BOYfriend advisedly). The real life teen was obviously smitten by the attractive older woman (Pamela Smart is no Nicole Kidman, but she was reasonably attractive and, more importantly for a teen-ager, willing). The scenes of his testimony during the trial of Pamela Smart are riveting because he was obviously so naive as to have believed that Ms. Smart was in love with him and wanted to be with him. Phoenix captures the mind of that teen confused teen brilliantly. In this case, seeing the real life story helped me as a viewer better understand Phoenix's take on the character.

On the other hand, Henry makes Suzanne a reprehensible character, too dim-witted to understand how little she actually knows; ultimately she wasn't even smart enough to realize that manipulating less-than-brilliant teens into an act of murder was not likely to end well. Henry, I think, took more liberties with the 'real life" character here than he did with Jimmy Emmett. The primary attribute Suzanne has in common with Pamela Smart is a willingness to manipulate teen agers to do her bidding. Nonetheless, Henry's take on Suzanne is Buck Henry at his leeringly sardonic best.

Nicole Kidman is not one of my favorite actors, but she does well in this role of Suzanne, largely due to Henry's wonderfully caustic take on the ambition to be a television personality. Suzanne's only talent is her looks, but the only people she can find who readily agree that has sufficient looks to be a TV news personality are a small group of troubled teen agers. No one else is fooled other than her equally love-struck husband (Matt Dillon).

"To Die For" is not a great film by any means. At times the story slows to a crawl as Henry tries to delve into some depth in the relationships. Of course that is not really what the film is about -- it's about Henry's acerbic take on celebrity in America circa the final decade of the 20th century. On that level the movie works. Where it doesn't work so well, despite the strong performance of Joaquin Phoenix, is in the portrayal of the teenagers. Their motivations are complex (more complex than simply having sex with the gorgeous older woman) and neither the screenplay nor the direction manage to pull off the merger of the dramatic story of Jimmy Emmett with the dark comedy of Suzanne.
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1/10
Psychotic drama student (Kidman) plays psychotic weathergirl bimbo Suzanne Stone.
Ben_Cheshire29 July 2004
Strained and forced attempt at black comedy manages to be neither particularly dark or funny - just awkward. Its always a worry when the few jokes in a comedy are aggressive and mastubatory. The main thing i was trying to figure out was why a viewer would want to keep watching this movie. What is the purpose? What is the narrative drive? What keeps us watching past the credits, where we find out Kidman kills her husband, and in her eyes is the fact that she's psychotic. Its certainly not to find more out about this character - b.c she's pretty nauseating and reprehensible. Is it just to find out why this TV weather girl was accused of murder?

This aim may have seemed more interesting if Kidman seemed a little more balanced. Nicole Kidman makes me nervous as a viewer: i'm always conscious of the fact that she's acting. Painfully so. The artificiality of her performance might be fine for black comedy, but in practical story terms, I just don't see why anybody would be fooled by her. She's clearly unbalanced from the get-go. What works about this is that there's a feeling of an inescapable fate - people marry the wrong person all the time, so that was the one interesting thing about it, that a person can actually be so blind to the fact that a person is wrong, when we know she turns out being very wrong, but we can't stop him from marrying her.

The talking to the camera was so gimmicky it made me sick. As was the use of rock music in the film to try and convince us Nicole is really some dark superhero.

1/5.
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6/10
Rather a sly satire, though the handling is sometimes precious...
moonspinner5529 December 2002
Nicole Kidman hit an early career-high with her riveting portrayal of a self-obsessed suburban nutcase who has big dreams of finding fame and fortune, even at the expense of her husband. Icy, satirical black comedy, adapted from Nancy Maynard's book by Buck Henry, begins strongly, though Gus Van Sant directs in his usual cobbled-together manner (he uses hoary quasi-documentary devices to propel the story, and these artifices--flashbacks and direct-to-the-camera nods--grow tiresome quickly). However, Henry's screenplay is amusing, Kidman is intensely watchable, and the solid supporting cast is first-rate. **1/2 from ****
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2/10
Highly Overrated
RJ-2120 February 1999
To Die For is shocking. Totally overrated, which includes Kidman's Golden Globe performance. The film is largely dull, predictable and pointless. Why people enjoy this is beyond me, as it's a dreadful movie.
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