To Die For

By David Sturm, Copyright 1996

"To Die For" puts director Gus Van Sant back on track as one of America's more promising young directors.

A master of black humor, Van Sant debuted with the bleakly funny "Drugstore Cowboy." Then, he stumbled with the risky "My Own Private Idaho" before falling flat on his face with the botched "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues."

With "To Die For" Van Sant has helmed another risky project, but this time has deftly pulled it off.

The movie stars Nicole Kidman (Mrs. Tom Cruise) as Suzanne Stone, a bored housewife determined to make a splash as a television celebrity.

"You're not really anybody in America unless you're on TV," she reasons.

She gets a job as a weather girl on a cable station and--as a newly minted "member of the professional media"--exploits her access to start making a documentary about disaffected teenagers.

Meanwhile, her nudnik of a husband, played by Matt Dillon, is kind of an embarrassment. Someone like Suzanne, who "strongly relates to Jane Pauley," cannot envision celebrityhood with a yobbo in a bowling shirt on her arm.

When she meets three dimwitted juvenile delinquents while shooting her documentary, she realizes she could engineer the murder of her husband by playing head games with these kids. (One of the kids is Joaquin Phoenix, younger brother of the late River Phoenix.)

Kidman's role is a one-note performance throughout--the adjectives narcissistic and solopsistic hardly begin to describe her mammoth ego. Even when the jig is up she displays a serene confidence in herself.

You may catch yourself in mid-nod when she tosses off a line like, "What's the point of doing anything worthwhile if nobody's watching."

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