To Die For (Van Sant, 1995)

Nicole Kidman has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and 2017 has been especially stellar, what with an Emmy win for Big Little Lies and standout performances in The Beguiled and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Watching Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, it’s easy to see why she’s gained such a cult following. As an ambitious meteorologist for a small town TV station, Kidman exudes a precise and rigorous narcissism that smoothly transitions from a cutesy rabidity for media glory to something completely demented, her nail varnish and expertly coiffed hair in lockstep with the voracious glow in her eyes and the barely detectable edge in her clipped tones. Her Suzanne Stone is a picture of ruthless Machiavellianism in the guise of hypersexual femininity—basically the opposite of Lady Macbeth, who wanted to be unsexed in order to murder a king. Stone, meanwhile, doesn’t murder anyone, and instead uses her physicality to entice a couple of horny teenagers to do the dirty work for her. You have to hand it to her: she knows how to play the game.

The mockumentary format works well here, especially when coupled with the final twist with regard to Stone’s involvement. It gives the film a nice balance between levity and tragedy, the actors having more room to fully manifest their characters without necessarily turning them into caricatures. Van Sant’s direction is workmanlike, and the visual look of the film is on par for something from the mid-‘90s (as is Danny Elfman’s score). For me, though, everything rests on Kidman, and she nails it. Over twenty years on, and it’s still one of the best performance she’s ever given.