Still from Fatale (movie) of Hilary Swank and Michael Ealy.

Film Review: Fatale

Film Reviews

Director: Deon Taylor

Hidden Empire Film Group
In Theaters 12.18

A suspense thriller is nothing without surprises, and the slickly packaged new release Fatale comes with a twist so mind boggling that no one could have ever predicted it: Gerard Butler‘s rehash of Armageddon isn’t the worst major movie coming out this week.

In Fatale, successful sports agent Derrick (Michael Ealy, Jacob’s Ladder, The Perfect Guy), watches his perfect life slowly disappear after a one night stand with a mysterious stranger (Hilary Swank): His house is broken into, Police Detective Valerie Quinlan shows up at the house, and she turns out to be the very same woman. Derrick is terrified that she’s going to tell his wife, but she assures him that he has nothing to worry about—what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But it becomes more and more clear that his problems have just begun. 

Quinlan is facing her own troubles, as her ex-husband is using her past issues with alcoholism to keep her from seeing her daughter. Derrick’s business partner (Mike Colter, Luke Cage) is faced with perhaps the most serious problem of all in the fact that he just plain can’t act, but somehow keeps getting cast in movies and television. It’s not long before the housefly of betrayal gets caught in a sticky web of deceit, and the spider of karma edges closer and closer until finally, I can’t find a satisfactory last line for this metaphor.

It’s just plain depressing to see a two-time Academy Award winner reduced to producing and starring in this exploitation junk, and by the time we reach the “rough sex in the kitchen” sequence, most viewers will probably be thinking the same thing: She did this because she’s still bothered by that episode of The Office where everyone argues over whether or not she’s hot, isn’t she? Ealy, meanwhile, comes across as if he was trying to pass a kidney stone throughout the length of the production and couldn’t bother to focus on anything as trivial as this movie.

Director Deon Taylor (Traffik, Black and Blue) and writer David Loughery (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, The Three Musketeers) have lazily slopped Fatal Attraction and Strangers on a Train into a blender and hit purée, and not even legendary cinematographer Dante Spinotti (The Last of the Mohicans, LA Confidential) can make it look good. There isn’t a single moment in Fatale where we’re given a reason to care about or sympathize with any of these characters, and the sheer number of “come on, nobody is that stupid” moments just keep stacking up like building blocks until finally it can’t support itself. In particular, Loughery’s script and Ealy’s weak performance combine with Swank’s star power to make unclear at times who exactly the protagonist is here. 

The nicest thing to be said about this film is that it’s probably not meant to be as thoroughly, hatefully misogynistic as it actually is, but it took a truly epic amount of willful denial on everyone’s part not to question what kind of subtext they were blatantly promoting and the horrible messages being sent by this film. There’s not a single female character who isn’t psychotic, a manipulative liar or both, and it comes across almost as it’s not preaching fidelity as much as it is suggesting that Black men messing around with white women are bound for trouble, and that’s just not good for anybody. I won’t even get into the awkwardness of the issues of police and racial bias that inevitably come up, seriously, but no one questioned whether it was a good time to release this?

I’m a big fan of Swank, the serious actress, and I also have no problem with her doing a purely silly popcorn movie. But in order to find a worse movie in her entire filmography, you’ve got to start throwing out titles like The Black Dahlia and The Next Karate Kid. If you’ve missed seeing her in starring roles, I highly recommend that you binge watch the Netflix series Away, and take that title as a commentary on where Fatale needs to go. –Patrick Gibbs