Valmont (1989) Poster


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Sexual decadence before the time of the guillotine
DeeNine-25 August 2001
I liked this better than Dangerous Liaisons which came out at about the same time. Of course Dangerous Liaisons was very good, and John Malkovich, who played Vicomte de Valmont, is an actor of power, and Glenn Close, who played the Marquise de Merteuil, is highly accomplished, but I preferred the charm of Colin Firth in this film to the brutality of Malkovich, and I thought Annette Bening was just delightful. She played Merteuil with exquisite timing and an ironic witchery and warmth that I shall not soon forget. I preferred her playful, sly wit to Close's cool cynicism.

The story comes from a novel by Choderlos de Laclos set in 18th century France that was made into a stage play by Christopher Hampton. It is a cynical satire on human sexuality as well as a very subtle examination of sexual hypocrisy and desire, a kind of oh so sophisticated laugh at bourgeois morality that would have delighted Voltaire and Moliere and greatly amused Shakespeare. It is a tale of elaborate lechery and revenge that backfires because it seems that anybody, even the most jagged rake can fall in love, and thereby become the victim. The central assumption here is the same as that of the Cavalier poets, namely that marriage kills love. As Merteuil says, "You don't marry your lover."

Meg Tilly played Madame de Tourvel with subtlety and a riveting passion. One of the great sequences in the movie occurs after she has fallen madly in love with Valmont against her will. She stands outside his doorway in the rain for hours looking adoringly and forlornly up at his window. And then she is allowed to enter and receive a cool reception. Valmont says, "Do you want me to lie to you?" and she replies desperately, "Yes," and then it is her passion that overwhelms him, leading to a beautifully ironic twist. Shortly afterward he sees Merteuil, who has become more like a sister than an ex-lover, and says, "I feel awful." She replies, "Are you surprised? (Pause) You are an awful man." Hanging his head he continues, "Do you think a man can change?" "Yes. (Pause) For the worse."

This theme, that it is the beloved who has the power and that once you fall in love you lose all power, is repeated several times in the movie. Valmont pursues women, the harder to get the better, with a relentless and maniacal passion, but once he has them, he immediately loses interest. His making love absentmindedly to Cecile de Volanges (played with wide-eyed innocence and girlish charm by Fairuza Balk) was an incredible irony when we consider what she would cost Gercourt, played with his rather substantial nose in the air by Jeffrey Jones, whom you may recall as the pratfalling principal in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986).

There is some insidious philosophy here, some sardonic observations on human nature worth mentioning. One is that the man beloved of women gets most of the reproductive tries, and regardless of his rakishness, is still beloved. Another is that duplicity is the accepted, even required, standard of behavior in society, and that when it comes to sex, one must, perforce, always lie.

Milos Forman's direction was invisible and therefore a work of art. The incidental scenes and backdrops depicting the color, squalor and decadence of pre-revolutionary France added just the right amount of atmosphere. The costumes were stunning and much cleaner than they would have been in reality. The elegance and beauty of all the titled people merrily contrasted with the crude ugliness of the common people, rightly reflecting the effete snobbery of the aristocracy before the time of the guillotine.

(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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Annette Bening is fantastic
MinneapolisJane22 September 2004
Annette Bening has proved again what a versatile actress she is. She positively emanates cruelty and perverseness in this film, but she is the epitome of sweetness in "American President" and fragility in "American Beauty." The pleasure her character takes in causing others' pain makes one easily imagine her reincarnated as a Gestapo torturer. Colin Firth is, as usual, handsome, charming, and believable. Fairuza Balk completely captures the confusion, excitement, and naiveté one would expect of a girl reentering the world after years in a convent. Meg Tilly shows a depth that I hadn't expected and Fabia Drake is wonderful as the hard-of-hearing, elderly, but wise, matron. The costumes and sets were exquisite and evoked the period completely. I highly recommend this for the performances and the ambiance.
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better of the two by far
Andy Sandfoss4 October 2000
I notice a bit of a war going on between partisans of this and "Dangerous Liaisons" (the Glenn Close/John Malkovich/Stephen Frears vehicle). I'm not entirely sure why, but I find "Valmont" so much better. I think it's because: A) Milos Forman is unquestionably a better director than Frears, especially when he can call on the photographic talents of a cinematographer like Miroslav Ondricek; B) "Valmont" takes the time to develop some of the relationships between characters on screen, while the other simply injects the viewers into preexisting relationships; C) Colin Firth and Annette Benning are quite simply sexier than Glenn Close and John Malkovich; "Dangerous Liaisons" is too intellectual, while "Valmont" works at the hormonal level too. D) Fairuza Balk is far more believable as a virgin than Uma Thurman (can anyone say differently?!?). I certainly acknowledge "Dangerous Liaisons" as a well-made, well-acted film, but in the end I find it nearly unwatchable compared to "Valmont", which I can (and have) enjoyed over and over.
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A less sadistic version of the French classic Les Liaisons Dangereruses
countryway_4886424 April 2002
I think I've seen all the variations on a theme of this story, which, in turn, is a variation on the Don Juan legend. Of all of them, I like this one best.

Colin Firth is a marvelous Valmont. Firth is a VERY subtle actor. Early in the film, he pretends to be helpless in the water, unable to swim in order to elicite a response from his victim,(Tilly), but when his actions do not receive the response he expected, his face changes immediately. He is no longer the smiling, charmer, but a man furious that his plan was thwarted. These changes in expression happen in an instant. The alteration of his features is absolutely chilling.

It is, to me, far more effective to have the villian of the piece LOOK like an angel, than to look like what he really is (Malkovitch).

Annette Benning, with her delicate beauty and dimple certainly doesn't look like the scheming, sexual predator that she really is.

There is one scene in which Firth really does a virtuoso performance. He dances with four women in turn. First, he dances with his elderly Aunt. This lady still loves to flirt. He is graceful and charming and flatters her outrageously. Next he dances with his 15 year old prey. Here he cappers like a 15 year old, which delights and disarmes her. Next, Valmont dances with Benning, his former lover. Here he is remote and aloof. It is SHE who flirts with him! He withholds what she knows should be hers. THEN he dances with the woman he has fallen in love with. He has a bet with Benning that he can bed this married, pious lady. In this dance he is sensual and genuine. SHE reacts with the most rapturous expressions and movements I have ever seen on screen. Meg Tilly and Colin Firth dancing in this sequence are breathtaking to behold.

Because all of the feelings of the characters in Valmont are so beautifully acted, Firth, Benning, Tilly and Balk are all believable and because you believe in them you also feel their pain.

Each character suffers because of decisions they have made, over and above the seductions that do take place.

A marvelous film that I recommend to those over 18. There are some explicite scenes in this film that are too hot for young people.
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all about subtleties
cathy-3927 July 1999
I must confess that the first time I saw that movie, few years after it's release, I couldn't help, but find it a pale version of Stefan Freirs "Dangerous Liaison". Recently I have seen both movies and I must say that my opinion is quite the opposite now. In "Valmont" everything is subtle and I think this is why most people didn't get it. You can destroy someone's life without having written "I'm Bad!" on your forehead. With her slow-velvet voice Annette Bening is a snake under a rock:she is terrifying. As for Colin Firth's Valmont he is charming, he flies like a butterfly, but he knows exactly what he is doing. We believe in his seduction not because we are told to but because we are seduced ourselves. People have been saying that Valmont was too light, too boyish. There is nothing boyish in the way he says at Mme de Tourvelle "Is that what you want?" You see at that point how his hight-pitched voice, that goes with his voice and smile, is only a mask, as powder was John Malkovitch's mask. Colin Firth said that Milos Forman was too subtle for his own good and I think this is why some people can still find "Dangerous Liaisons" more powerful. As for "Valmont" even if the end is a bit weak, I wouldn't hesitate to say that it is from far the best version of the two movies. For those who go by the book, as I once did, you might be puzzled by the differences with the original story but for its deep sensitivity, its wonderful cast and this art of subtlety, it's really worth every moment of it.
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Better than the other version
pekinman14 December 2004
Milos Forman's version of 'Dangerous Liasons' was relegated to the second tier at the time of its release, which occurred close on the heels of Stephen Frears' version starring Glenn Close and John Malkovitch. I saw them both in the theatre when they were released and from the start enjoyed Forman's film far more than Frears'.

Annette Beining is a wonderful Madame de Mertueil, beautiful, intelligent, ruthless and in the end tragic. Glenn Close is pretty two-dimensional by comparison for Frears. And Colin Firth is more the laughing cavalier, with a heart, than was John Malkovitch for Frears, who mostly grimaces smugly and is highly distasteful and ego-centric. I liked Firth's sense of humor about himself, it makes the ending more poignant.

On paper some of the casting of Forman's version seems questionable, but all, except one, work very well. Most surprising was Henry Thomas's young lover. Thomas can be a dull actor but his reticent performance is apt for the gauche young man learning the ropes of 18th century Parisian society. Fairuza Bulk is delightful and funny as the virginal Céline. The supporting cast, notably Fabia Drake's dotty old Madame de Rosemond, are excellent. Siân Philips and Jeffrey Jones provide some very funny moments, though their characters are anything but "funny".

Only Meg Tilly falls short. Her American accent and modern delivery of the lines is disappointing. But she is a good actress and manages to convince in the end, though a more "Frenchified" performer would have served the story more effectively.

The music, cinematography and choreography are superb. The settings are very beautiful.

Forman's 'Valmont' deserves to be reconsidered by those critics who found it lacking when it first appeared.
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exceptional period dramatic comedy
greg88811 October 1999
Since discovering this film, it has since become one of my all-time favorite period pieces. There is a unique combination of lightness and frivolity on one hand, and the very darkest side of love, deception and manipulation on the other. Foreman's "Amadeus" also was an elegant period-piece which brought the extremes of comedy and drama together brilliantly. The highlights of this film, for me, must begin with Annette Bening. After all is said and done this is her movie. She is absolutely radiant. There is a remarkable breadth in her character. . . she displays a sweet sensitivity towards Cecile's innocence and you sense that she longs to return to that kind of experience in love. And yet she has turned cold, bitter, and resentful through her real life experiences with love. There is much more to be said. . . Colin Firth as Valmont is funny, charming, and very sly. His 'old aunt' is a treasure. Fairuza Balk (who I loved in her debut 'Return to Oz') well portrays the anxiety, anticipation and awkwardness of all teenagers starting to embrace love. The locations and costumes are lucious. There are the inevitable comparisons to 'Dangerous Liaisons,' also a very entertaining film. Personally, I think there's no need to compare them. They're both excellently written and acted. However, since 'Valmont' was missed by many, it needs to be brought to the attention of those who haven't yet had
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"Valmont" is better than "dangerous liason" in some ways
nirvana_8312 April 2002
I just watched "Valmont" just now actually, and what can I say, I was really impressed with the film... I've seen "Dangerous Liason" so many times before, and it's always been one of my favorites, so maybe that's why I was a bit skeptical about "Valmont" as it started (for me it was overshadowed by "Dangerous Liason", but it was quick for me to be proven wrong...) The film was great, very interesting, because it provided different insight into the the story. Colin Firth (who I've fallen in love with ever since I watched "Bridget Jones' Diary, because he is one charming brit!) was dazzling as Valmont, and he managed to display another kind of Valmont, which John Malkovich wasn't, but he was great as well. Firth's Valmont was very charming and he has a passion and charisma to him that Malkovich lacked (he was overall rather "cool"), and what can i say? He just took my breath away again once again. Annette Bening (is that how u spell her name?) was also brilliant, and in the begining I was tricked into thinking that she was too nice for the part, but nope, she was evil as well, and maybe to some extent more evil that Glenn Close's portryal, because beneath all the nice and sweetness, beining was evil indeed! and Henry Thomas, he was extroidinary, and he did a great job! His potrayal of his character was so much better than Keanu Reeves (who can't act), and he made the movie interesting indeed. it was sad to see his innocence lost at the end though, what really disturbed me, because before he was such a loyal lover! sad, the loss of innocence, once it's gone, it never comes back...maybe "Valmont" is lacking in the sense that it failed to illustrate the importance of Madame de Tourvel, like "Dangerous Liason" did, but otherwise, Valmont is magnificent. passionate, fun, and definetly keeps you going!
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beautifully crafted, passionately acted
shuaige26 August 1999
i only saw the movie tonight, more than 10 years after it is made. That's a real pity. This is such a beautiful film, attractive actors, regal costumes, lavish settings.... seductive, funny... good combo of everything... i would recommend this film to everyone!!!
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The Man Who Could Not Love
gbheron11 July 2000
Valmont is a very entertaining romance set in the upper classes of 17th century France. Valmont, the title character, is a rogue and womanizer. He is very likable, but has a terrible flaw; he can't love, and that is his ultimate undoing.

Milos Forman and his crew expertly recreate the world of baroque France. The actors are excellent especially Colin Firth as Valmont. The pacing is lively, as Valmont's world unravels, or at least gets away from him. Lots could be written on the psychology of Valmont, and its relationship to that of the modern Western man. And the movie works on that intellectual level, but it also works as a period-piece costume romance. I recommend it.
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Stunning version of "Dangerous Liaisons"
blanche-28 June 2017
"Valmont" is a 1989 film based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, as well, of course, the better-known film Dangerous Liaisons starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich.

Here, Annette Benning is the Merteuil who is stunned to learn that her lover, Gercourt (Jeffrey Jones) is betrothed to the fifteen-year-old virginal Cecile (Fairuza Balk). She makes a bet with her Casanova-like friend Valmont (Colin Firth) that he can seduce Cecile so that on her wedding night, she is not a virgin, thus giving Merteuil revenge against Gercourt. Of course, the best-laid plans and all that - Cecile is in love with her music teacher (Henry Thomas), and Merteuil aids and abets the romance as much as possible. But things become more and more complicated, with Valmont, the eternal playboy, actually falling in love himself. And as the story says, once you fall in love, your power is gone.

This film is far superior to the more famous one. Forman is a fantastic director, and the cast warms up what is basically a cold, calculated story and really makes you care.

Annette Bening is more full-dimensional than Close's Martueil - she's beautiful, smart, and she's so sweet and lies so beautifully one has no idea what she's really like. Firth's Valmont is far more believable than Malkoitch's egomaniacal portrayal.

Henry Thomas is the desperately in love music teacher - it's good casting, but he comes off as too modern. It's a minor point because the entire cast is wonderful, including Fabia Drake as Madame de Rosemond, Sian Philips, Meg Tilly, and Fairuza Balik.

The film is beautiful to look at, sumptuously and carefully produced. It's a sad case of being the second film version out when the first was better marketed with a more American cast. Nevertheless, it's not too late to discover this gem.
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marcello-scattolini23 November 2013
I have just watched the movie. This is absolutely my top one, for so many reasons: storytelling is rich and dense, unforgettable acting, photography is amazing, scenarios are perfectly built, decorated and, at last, its progression is natural. Valmont is one of those movies we could never forget of. Its intrigue and sexual tension between all characters is simply out of this world. People's psychological profiles interaction work out almost as if the movie was a symphony. Innocence-driven decisions dance harmonically with persuasion and inducement capabilities. Well-crafted goals justify almost everything in the search of power, political evidence, social influence and "sexual superiority". Machiavelli would have been envious. All of this, alternated with some moments of great comedy and ease. Besides, when the two strongest characters decide to declare war against each other, Valmont gets even more delicious and delightful. If you are a "cinéphile", you should see it. If you are not, you should do the same. The movie is one of the most touching work-of-arts I have ever been exposed to. Amazing.
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Passion and feeling
AKS-63 April 1999
I can't really see how Dangerous Liaison can be considered to be the better movie of the two (Valmont and Dangerous Liaison both being based on the same book). I think Dangerous Liaison is about as interesting as a dead fish, while this has passion, feeling, and a better director (Milos Forman is a genius!). Even the cast is better, even if the other movie features more "stars". Colin Firth is exceptional, as always, as is Annette Bening and Meg Tilly. Fairuza Balk is also great, and the scene where Valmont seduces Cecile is a classic!

I'd give it 10/10!
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'You are confusing bets and marriages, madame. One must always honor a bet'
Chrysanthepop28 May 2010
'Valmont' was overshadowed by the popularity of 'Dangerous Liaisons' which released just about a year before. Both movies were based on the same novel. It has been too long since I last watched 'Dangerous Liaisons'. I remember the ending being slightly different and the acting a little more dramatic.

'Valmont' solidly makes its own stand. Milos Forman gives it a slightly larger than life look with the colourful lavish sets and exquisite costumes but he balances it wonderfully with the actors' subtle performances, a beautiful soundtrack and stunning cinematography.

Forman tells the story very well. Even though I had a vague idea of what it was about, I liked Forman's presentation and he still managed to surprise me a few times. 'Valmont' brings forth some strong themes, such as that of love, seduction, lust, sexuality, marriage, chastity, monogamy and envy. All themes are brilliantly incorporated into the story and characters. Additionally , the viewer delightfully benefits from some splendid lines, especially the dialogue delivered between Annette Bening and Colin Firth. Their sequences along with the one where a soaking wet Meg Tilly asks Valmont to love her and a dance number where Valmont dances with four women are some of the most memorable movie moments.

Needless to say, each and every one of the performances are first rate. I couldn't picture anyone else other than Colin Firth in Valmont's shoes. He plays the part naturally, fitting it like a comfortable glove. Annette Bening is delightful as the playfully wicked baroness. Meg Tilly is wonderful as Tourvel. Fairuza Balk is a great choice as she possesses the innocence, naivety and youthfulness of Cecile.

Valmont is definitely not your average costume drama. While it tells an engaging story on human relationships, it raises some interesting questions on the aforementioned themes, questions that hold strongly relevant for today's world too. It's a stunning cinematic piece.
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Totally Misses the Point
wrhayee-229 March 2004
Milos Forman's version of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is really shocking, but for all the wrong reasons. In the original story two jades who are ex-lovers have nothing better to do than amuse each other with stories of their sexual conquests. They seduce and betray, then relish the pain they've caused. Their vicious games (They take the love out of love as someone put it) take an unprecedented turn when one of them actually falls in love with his current prey.

The two previous movie versions of this book were more than satisfying and entertaining. It was a relief to see two master debauchers meet their grotesque fates, and the irony of each of them being the cause of the other's ruin gave the story its final edge.

"Valmont" doesn't have an edge, much less a point. Milos Forman pulled all the teeth out of de Laclos' story and left us with nothing but mush. He does the same disservice to "Dangerous Liaisons" that the Demi Moore version of "The Scarlet Letter" did to Hawthorne, reduces it to pap.

I mean, you'd really have to be dense not to see how "Valmont" totally misses the point of the material.

The performers, even those who have been out of school a while, appear to be doing a high school play with very pretty sets. Colin Firth and Annette Benning are not at their best, but their roles have been reconceived to the point where they are soft and blurry; their games have no sting because they're sentimentalized. The rest of the leads either look like kids in a school play (Fairuz Balk and poor Henry Thomas) or sound like children (Meg Tilly).

Usually we think a certain movie sucks because it bites. This one is all gums and has no bite.
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The Lack of Suspense is Made Up for by the Cast & the Look
tim.halkin8 February 2003
Neither Jean-Claude Carrière's screenplay, nor Milos Forman's direction could capture the suspense felt in the stage play by Choderlos de Laclos ("Les Liaisons Dangereuses"), or Stephen Frears' film "Dangerous Liaisons" with Glenn Close and John Malkovich in the two leading roles.

Notwithstanding, "Valmont" is a lush and beautifully filmed adaptation of this piece with a cast well worth watching the film for. Visually, I think I prefer Forman's film to Frears', and certain performances are more layered in "Valmont". Annette Bening's smile is so winning that you can truly believe how people are duped by it, which makes it all the more shocking when she shows her ugly side. This is not to say that she's better in the role than Glenn Close was - just different. Both performances are brilliant.

Colin Firth's Valmont is a killer: his charm and sex appeal are like a Venus know they're dangerous, but you can't help being sucked in by them. He ultimately plays this very difficult role with more subtle layers than the brutally devastating performance that Malkovich gave. His Valmont is ultimately more likable as a person, despite his dastardly doings. This makes it easier to forgive him in the end.

No offense to Ulma Thurman, but I really did like the young lovers in Valmont better than in Dangerous Liaisons: Fairuza Balk as Cecile is perfect. Thurman (who is a wonderful actress) looked a tad too old to play a 15 year old and therefore her naivety comes across a being slightly dumb. Balk looks the right age and just comes off as one would imagine a teenage girl of that time and stature would be. Henry Thomas as Dancey is just heads over Keanu Reeves.

One does sorely miss Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame de Tourvel, since Meg Tilly is just so unfortunately miscast in the role. Whereby you can certainly understand why she throws all precaution to the wind and starts an affair with Colin Firth's Valmont, you simply can't understand what he possibly could see in her bland approach to this complex character.

Dangerous Liaisons just has a better script with much more tension and suspense than Valmont, but give this one a look - you won't be wasting your time.
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Irka7 September 1999
from Dangerous Liasons. Almost the same plot - and two polar implementations. Friers' version is refined: dialogues - that is what makes his version considered the best. Forman's version is not explicit. You cannot say this charcter is bad, this one is good (as Dangerous Liasons so straightforwardly suggests). If D.L. is a pure, cold and cruel stylization, Valmont is tender, fragile, but not less cruel reality.

If one version existed without the other, we would never be able to appreciate its beauty.

And I agree with all other comments about Valmont.

However, Friers' version is not less passionate than Valmont - it's achieved by the contrast of its such a real and tragic ending with all previous cold, pragmatic and cruel games. They thought they were playing games, and paid with their lives.
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Similar to but different from Dangerous Liaisons & Cruel Intentions
Stampy_Sandy22 July 2002
I was very surprised to see just how much of Valmont was very much the same as Dangerous Liaisons & Cruel Intentions, but also, how different the ending was compared to the endings in the other two movies.

I like Dangerous Liaisons & Valmont better than Cruel Intentions, mainly because of the fact that they are movies from another century, as opposed to the modern telling of the story.

However, I would recommend seeing Dangerous Liaisons & Cruel Intentions before seeing Valmont, because they are nearly the same movie, minus costume/set/scenery differences.

The acting is wonderful in all 3 movies. Each movie seems to be appropriately cast for the telling of it's particular version of the story.
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A Lavish Period Piece
BBD-311 December 1999
Warning: Spoilers
This movie grabbed my attention while channel surfing on cable. I would have never picked it out of the guide, but I guess I "tuned in" at the right moment, because before I knew it I had watched the film to the end and then watched it again to see what I missed in the beginning. I think Colin Firth was very sexy in the role of Valmont, exuding charm while at the same time playing the base animal. Annette Bening plays a great temptress/schemer and Sian Phillips, still has that sinister aire of the evil mother/stepmother that she played so well in "I Claudius". Great cast with an interesting plot. Too bad its Valmont who dies, I think it should have been Merteuil--she was the villain. Its worth the time to watch.
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Botched Screenplay but Annette Bening Shines
mightypossibility28 July 2005
The only reason I rate this movie as generously as six stars ("forgettable, plus") is Annette Bening. Would that she had been cast in Dangerous Liaisons, another adaptation, released around the same time, of the same book. She brings a winning charm to the depraved Marquise de Merteuil that makes the character's personal and social power, as well as her motivations as an everywoman, much more believable and understandable.

Other than that, the story was absolutely botched by just how "freely adapted" it was from Chorderos de Laclos's brilliant novel. The screen writers changed the ending of de Laclos's story so much that the film becomes a vapid period romance. It loses everything that is so searing and moving about the book.

Madame de Tourvel was also badly written. Why Valmont finds her (in particular, among other women faithful to their husbands) so fascinating, remains a mystery. I like Meg Tilly, but, in this role, she is completely outshone by Michelle Pfeiffer, who also has a better written part, in Dangerous Liaisons.

The part of Cecile was better cast in Valmont with Fairiza Balk than in Dangerous Liaisons with Uma Thurman - principally because Balk appears to be and conveys the requisite vulnerability of a real fifteen-year-old. Uma Thurman, with all her presence and six feet of goddess glory, probably never could play fifteen!
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nothing too "dangerous" about Valmont
pogostiks11 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
What a disappointment. When I saw Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Stephen Frears, I left the cinema totally horrified by the self-defeating destruction left in the wake of its two main characters, Madame de Merteuil and Valmont. I don't think a single other film has ever seemed to depict such pure evil and immorality quite so well. But when I finally got to see Milos' Forman's Valmont, I was thunderstruck by how he had missed all of the main points of the story.

Annette Bening spends most of the film with the same smile on her face - you never know what she is really thinking because she almost never changes her expression. Even more disconcerting is the fact that her timing was all off - a two second pause before almost every reply she made to anyone. It was almost as if she hadn't quite learned her lines.

Colin Firth was handsome, I suppose, but the script never made him seem ruthless. More important, I couldn't fathom for the life of me who he OR Bening really cared about. Both performances were flat and on a single note. No bite, no passion, nothing worth getting excited about. Even the costumes seemed to be colourless and unimportant.

I guess what disappoints me the most in Valmont is that the subtle,y, the underlying viciousness and scheming seem to have been replaced with a kind of gentle flirtatiousness. The only tension in the film came at the point where Valmont is fighting a duel... the two swordsmen suddenly move out of camera range and we see a look of horror and fear on the face of a lackey. But this is just facile technique... the REAL tension should have been between Merteuil and Valmont...but it just wasn't there.
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Slightly bloated blandness
jeannine198021 March 2005
I heard somewhere that Milos Forman didn't reread "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" before writing the screenplay for Valmont, but worked instead from his memory of its sex-positive, good-natured blasphemy (my adjectives). I don't know if that's true, but it's a useful origin myth – and yet, it renders the slightly bloated blandness of "Valmont" all the sadder. If its lurking turgidity could be blamed on fidelity to a well-padded book, the case would be unfortunate but not unusual. But the truth is that even the mush-mouthed Meg Tilly isn't entirely to blame for the film's lack of luster (although she does have a lot to answer for). No, the problem with "Valmont" is that there are no stakes. No character takes anything seriously, and it is therefore hard for a viewer to do so. Madame de Merteuil's constant, pretty smiles are those of the life of a fairly good party. The Vicomte de Valmont is a sweetie, really, and if he hurts a fly or two along the way, since the flies don't mind much, why should we? Of course, "Valmont" is supposed to be a satire on upper class hypocrisy - I get that. But it paints its portraits with such temperate clarity that it's impossible to miss this point and therefore there is nothing for a viewer to do, to root out, to think. "Valmont" is not a bad film – it's just not a good one either. And yet, that is exactly why I have taken the time to write this comment, for I can think of few other films that are so puzzlingly not quite good in their consummate inoffensiveness.
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Perhaps the Least Subtle Version of Any French Farce
rhinocerosfive-131 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Interesting to watch... in unfortunate comparison to one of cinema's most vibrant and revolutionary achievements.

Brilliantly cast... if you hadn't already seen certain crazily well-aligned actors mark these roles indelibly as private property.

Lovely to look at... except for the opera scenes, especially the first which is rendered gray by Miroslav Ondricek's unaccountable inability to compensate for candlelight; one who has been in a room lit by a thousand candles refracted in ten thousand crystal facets knows that among the ways it does not appear is dark: see BARRY LYNDON, or a real room lit by a thousand candles. Or, need I say it, DANGEROUS LIAISONS.

But it cannot be said with anything approaching accuracy that this film is well written or well directed. Christopher Hampton and Stephen Frears understood this world and its dramatic imperatives: it is a place of delight, of terror, of reckless drive and perilous whimsy, of, well, danger. In Jean-Claude Carriere's leaden adaptation, the most dangerous element is boredom. The lightness and spark of the source material are doused by clouds of dull black velvet - I kept expecting Elvis to pout from the corners. Every development is so predictable it might have been announced by an oafish footman. Each line is as without poetry as a drunkard's belch. And nearly all performances suffer under a heavy guiding hand, in the form of an atypically cloddish Milos Forman, who crushes into mud the majority of what might have been a frothy little concoction.

Really, it's stunning that anyone could so brutally incapacitate so many actors so inured to bad direction, especially this man who has inspired the best from Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, Howard E Rollins, F Murray Abraham, Woody Harrelson, Jim Carrey, Randy Quaid and Natalie Portman... Forman, who so masterfully wove the works of Joplin and Mozart into the tapestry of storytelling, here even manages to mishandle the orchestrations of Neville Marriner, only allowing him to underscore emotions already blatant in the image.

Nearly every performance, I say, is damaged. 'Twould be folly to write off a cast including Sian Phillips, Jeffrey Jones, Ian McNeice, Vincent Schiavelli and Fabia Drake; many of these stalwarts salvage moments, though led to ruinous obviousness some of the time. But of the primary cast, only Meg Tilly - that precious creature, that perfect angel, who graced leading roles with a career of such baffling brevity - successfully invests her part with consistent subtlety and elegance. Her struggle with cupid is literally breathtaking - hers, mine, certainly Colin Firth's. Her minuet, so dainty and sure-footed even on the verge of a faint, is eloquent discourse on the rapturous despair that is the sole province of any object of forbidden pursuit. Boy, do I miss her.

There are other moments. Henry Thomas' fencing match with Jones is one of the more convincing screen duels - it looks entirely more dangerous than anything Basil Rathbone ever did, athletic as he and Flynn were. Firth's deflowering of Fairuza Balk is sexy, and handled by Carriere and Forman with some delicacy, however disingenuous it appears against Uma Thurman's prosaic rape at the hands of John Malkovich. Firth's horseback archery picnic is pleasant enough, though mostly I'm looking at what he's looking at: Meg Tilly. But Annette Bening, who is in just about every other scene, seems to have thought that to be cast was the entire job. She plays the film with a single facial expression (all teeth and wide eyes), and a single vocal inflection, addressing Regency France with the flat nasal tones of Topeka. For this, Warren, you gave up all that?

Mr Firth has never been a favorite of mine, and while it would be grossly unfair to judge him by contrast with another interpretation of the same role, I think it's within bounds to say that he plays Valmont with the same pretty competence with which he plays everything. When he grins what I'm sure he thinks is wolfishly at the ingénue, he reveals not a predator but a genuinely nice man, miscast. My guess is that Colin Firth knows exactly what to do with a swooning virgin: give her a gentle talking to and a chuck under the chin and taxi fare home to mother. I suspect that in real life he's a paragon of kindness and decency. That, or a far more talented actor than I give him credit for, since I think he's much better cast as the good suitor in bad Renee Zellweger movies.
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No danger, just a ruse...
musketrea23 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I suppose it would be easier to simply compare one adaptation of DL to another, but it isn't and shouldn't be so simple. One doesn't compare to the other - like a dog show, I'd rather compare each to the spirit and time of Choderlos de Laclos than one to another. They have some similarities: Reeves and Thomas both play Danceny flat as a bag wig. Firth is tantalizing as Valmont, sensual, charming, risky but... not dangerous. Annette Benning plays the Marquise de Mertueil as envious, shallow and vindictive, but she skates the surface of a character that should fascinating, alluring, and, in one climactic scene, even comes across as a little demented. de Laclos' text makes these two glow with the evil allure of a cobra -beautiful, dangerous, fascinating and deadly. Firth comes close, but Benning never does.

The scenery is grand, to be sure, but the costuming comes across as designed for a high school production. Flash and sparkle, but little accuracy, and less beauty. From the trailer, I expected depth, danger and a lush visual production to take my breath away. I got shallow, boring and iffy, and was left with a sigh of disappointment.

Give this a view if you have a subscription movie plan, or can catch it on cable at no extra, but don't bother unless you have a craving for a costume drama, any costume drama.
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Not so Good
mitcheaven9 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Honestly, I don't think this movie is deserving of its current rating, so I feel compelled to comment as a sort of public service. To the people who said this movie was better than Dangerous Liasons: I have seen both films, and read the book, and you are wrong.

I do agree with the other reviewers that this film had a superior Cecille; Uma Thurman (Cecille in Dangerous Liasons) is way too godesslike and statuesque to convincingly play a 15-year-old naif. Also, the sets and costumes were pretty to look at. (But honestly? If I want pretty, I'll look at a coffee-table book about Versailles or something, not watch a two-hour movie.) That, I'm afraid, is where the superiorities end.

Here are some reasons this movie is pretty bad:

1. Way too long. I started to get antsy and began fast-forwarding through a lot of parts that seemed unnecessary, and it still felt too long. Apparently the director felt that after a character delivered a line of dialogue, there should be an enormous, pregnant silence before someone else spoke. Unbelievably annoying.

2. A lot of praise has been heaped on this movie for "softening" the characters of Valmont and Madame de Merteuil, as if that's supposed to be a good thing. The fact that these two people are so callous and evil is what drives the entire plot and makes the book so compelling. I was really disappointed in Firth's Valmonth, although I'm not sure if it was because Colin Firth can't convincingly play a cold-blooded monster, or because the screenplay robbed Valmont of his cold-bloodedness. He came across as a sort of bumbling, ineffectual lothario, so that when he said he had seduced and ruined hundreds of women, it was utterly unconvincing. One of the most interesting things about the novel is how Valmont softens as he falls in love with Madame de Tourvel; in this version, that's pretty much absent, since Valmont doesn't seem all that bad to begin with.

3. The plot was a mess. If I hadn't already read the book, I'm pretty sure I would have no idea what anyone's motivations were. What, exactly, is going on with Valmont and Madame de Tourvel? Why does she suddenly fall in love with him? What are his feelings towards her? Why does she suddenly leave? Why does Valmont become angry with Madame de Merteuil for refusing to uphold her end of their bet, but then refuse to claim the prize when she offers it to him? All this is left unexplored.

4. Meg Tilly is woefully miscast as Madame de Tourvel. It's hard to fathom why even this softer, less effectual Valmont would set his sights on a woman so uninteresting and unattractive.

5. Colin Firth has really, really bad hair. Like mullet bad.

You've been warned.
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