Killing Me Softly (2002)
Killing Me Softly (2002)

Genre: Romantic Drama, Thriller, and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.

Release Date: June 21st, 2002 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Kaige Chen Actors: Heather Graham, Joseph Fiennes, Natascha McElhone, Ulrich Thomsen, Ian Hart, Jason Hughes, Amy Robbins, Rebecca Palmer

 


 

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he opening title sequence, which blends footage of snow-capped mountains and two people having sex (with a scarf clearly visible, wrapped around the woman’s neck), is no great example of graphics or storytelling or even foreshadowing. Instead, it’s almost comical. And when Alice (Heather Graham) begins a voiceover narration (speaking about extreme heights, at which point brain cells start to die from a lack of oxygen), the film becomes even more amateurish.

“Why don’t you start at the beginning? It’s always the easiest.” The story proper involves Indiana girl Alice, now living in London and designing CD ROMs and websites for corporate clients, who has met engineer Jake (Jason Hughes), with whom she feels comfortable and safe. After living together for a time, she literally bumps into Adam (Joesph Fiennes), a mysterious fellow (who turns out to be a mountain climber) with whom she decides to share a cab – all the way to his house. And she doesn’t even get his name during this initial meeting. Once there, he pounces on her, and the two collapse into a heap of naked flesh, tearing and clawing at one another with a passion she never experienced with Jake. To match the goofy opening, this sequence is abruptly interrupted by a glaring cat, Mr. Knowitall, who seems shocked by their carnal activity.

Alice’s affair, driven by an insatiable lust yet hindered by guilt, takes on a film noir vibe, not only with her narration, but also with cryptic conversations, ominous music (by Patrick Doyle, which is also quite romantic at times, with a catchy though unchanging theme that doesn’t bother with any slight variations; it is, oddly, the best aspect of this picture), and tragic pasts. There’s also an overly friendly sister (Natascha McElhone), a nosy best friend (Amy Robbins), and very few details about Adam’s history; Alice fails to ask any questions, even concerning Adam’s relationship status. It hardly seems to matter, though; she’s so madly in love that she doesn’t care what skeletons might be lurking in his closet.

This mystery thriller, based on the novel by Nicci French, harbors plenty of secrets, especially with the design of the timeline, which turns the bulk of the picture into a flashback. It’s also a strange romance, as Alice pines after Adam, following him around like a lost puppy, trying desperately to win his affections and to make him proud. In the midst of this, they experiment with erotic asphyxia during sex, which hopes to parallel the dangers of extreme sports but instead overshadows the mystery. Plus, there are creepy, printed notes that warn of Adam’s former endeavors and conquests, hinting at an unknown third party spying on the overly trusting young woman.

Sadly, Graham’s acting is noticeably deficient; she can’t manage to speak her lines with the sincerity necessary to sound even remotely convincing, especially with this erotic-thriller material. And in this whirlwind romance – one that sees a diminishing trust and increasing paranoia – authenticity is essential. Here, her plight comes across as overworked and manufactured, rather than organically forming, like in a Hitchcock piece. Graham spends the last third of the film looking worried, even when eating breakfast or riding the subway or drinking tea. She’s much better suited for comedy, though it’s likely she was cast in “Killing Me Softly” primarily for her sleek figure, which she shows off frequently.

“I could break your neck, I love you so much.” Toward the conclusion, the suspenseful scenarios amplify, but so does the nonsense of the lead couple’s BDSM proclivities (at one point, while tied up on a table, Alice cuts off Adam’s tirade to say that she has to pee). And it again takes away from the mystery, which is entirely guessable, devolving into something more outrageous, perverse, and trivial than plausible or nerve-wracking.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10