If there’s one female leading lady of Hollywood and beyond that’s had a somewhat patchy career, Nicole Kidman certainly takes the biscuit (or is that rice cracker?). With surprising successes like suspense thriller The Others shoved up against the irksome Batman Forever, even in bad films, she’s been able to sparkle on screen, being the closest thing Australia’s got to a an iconographic movie maiden. Born a star, it was this little quirky comedy that launched her into the big bucks.
To Die For is a black satire that targets the soullessness of modern life and the vapid construct of the celebrity. Kidman compelling plays Suzanne Stone, a heartless ‘dumb-blonde’ with an ambition and willingness to do just about anything to become a major television star.
After banking a job as a weather girl on New Hampshire’s local cable network, she decides to make her mark by creating a video documentary about a local high school’s degenerate youths. With her eye firmly on the prize, Suzanne seduces the naive 16-year-old Jimmy (played by a sprightly young Joaquin Phoenix) who acquiescently agrees to murder her working-class husband (Matt Dillon), whom she sees as a threat to her fame master plan.
As one of his first films, Gus Van Sant is clearly still developing his own style in the director’s chair, making To Die For a hectic and frenetic film experience which meddles in form from mockumentary to archive footage, to straight up thriller fiction. Fortunately for us, the ramshackle approach is befitting to the story, which is at first a critique of our dependency on sensationalist media and ends up being a screwball comedy.
Career shaping performances from Kidman, Phoenix and Casey Affleck, an impressively acrimonious score from Danny Elfman, a scathingly satirical script from The Graduate‘s Buck Henry and a humorous cameo from David Cronenberg, To Die For is a zippy instalment into the American media industry canon, which it forebodingly lampoons.