Brian De Palma loves outrageously stylish scenes that shout their directorial virtuosity out from the rafters like the famous twenty minute single opening shot from Snake Eyes, or elaborately staged sequences like the chase through the gallery in Dressed to Kill and the prom scene in Carrie. He seems to reserve his flashiest work for his genre films indeed, the flamboyant set-ups of his thrillers from the 70s/80s became muted in his subsequent mainstream work. In Femme Fatale, it is immediately apparent from the opening scene that De Palma is back on form. He offers up an ingenious restaging of a Cannes film premiere before we head into an improbably enjoyable set-up involving guards fooled with syrup on their keys and a laser drilled through a security door, a model (Rie Rasmussen) wearing a diamond top that bares most of her chest being seduced up against the opaque wall of a cubicle in the ladies by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as the diamond top is slipped to Romijn-Stamoss partner (Eriq Ebouaney) on the other side of the wall to be substituted for a replica, before the scheme is sprung and Romijn-Stamos double-crosses her partners and switches to an infra-red scope to flee in darkness. The sequence is some twenty minutes long and comes entirely without dialogue.
Subsequently, De Palma spins us through a progressiion of scenes Rebecca Romijn-Stamos all in black meeting a mystery woman in khakis in a church and fleeing, being taken home by an aging couple who seem to regard her as their child, and paparazzi Antonio Banderas secretly taking her picture. It is certainly confusing during these scenes as we have no idea what is happening. Upon re-reviewing it is apparent the subtle misdirection that De Palma is engaging in in letting us think that it is Laure rather than Lily. The plot becomes absurdly contorted in trying to follow the subsequent twists piled on. All the while, De Palma engages in many of his usual thriller effects and plot motifs split-screen, his fascination with doubles and the confusion between the two, big cheat “its all a dream” (or illusion) twists, long hypnotic and often sexually beguiling scenes where one person leads another on a chase.
Eventually, Femme Fatale turns out to be Brian De Palmas strongest return to classic form in some time. It works through a big left-field twist ending [PLOT SPOILERS] where De Palma turns the film into a variant on Sliding Doors (1998) and Run, Lola, Run (1998) in a twist that reveals that everything that has transpired is a precognitive dream being had by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. This type of cop-out cliche is as old as movie making itself but is surprisingly one that De Palma makes work. He cleverly brings every seemingly random element of the film together the identity of the khaki clad woman, revelations about the double-cross, the murder, the bauble and the truck driver. It is gimmicky but De Palma makes the elements weave together in a way that is surprisingly touching.
Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, in her first lead role after coming to attention in X-Men (2000), has an impossibly desirable presence. The scenes with her seducing a man in a bar while Antonio Banderas watches have a considerable erotic sizzle (if an over-the-top dramatic absurdity). On the minus side, Antonio Banderas plays rather wimpily. Ryuichi Sakamoto delivers an unusual score.
Brian De Palmas other genre films are: Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972), Sisters/Blood Sisters (1973), The Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Obsession (1976), Carrie (1976), The Fury (1978), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Body Double (1984), Raising Cain (1992) and Mission to Mars (2000). De Palma (2015) is a documentary about De Palmas life and films.