Whether in real life or in fiction, women are always expected to be on their very best behavior.
When women are walking down the street and minding their own business, they’re expected to smile and be flattered at all of the catcalls they receive, no matter how lewd and disrespectful they may be. When Black women are in the workplace and interacting with other people, particularly White women, in person or via e-mail, they must weigh every single word that is said out loud and make sure that the tone they use is unmistakably friendly lest they run the risk of causing weaponized White tears to flow and being seen as the angry Black woman as a result. And when female characters appear in films and television shows, particularly genre films and television shows, what they say and do and how they say and do it must be done in a way that appeals to the f—kboys who will tear them apart on the Internet if they don’t.
If you’re Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, you can’t be exceptionally good at having or acquiring the skills of a Jedi Knight without a detailed explanation as to how you have these skills in the first place. If you’re Captain Marvel, you need to smile more and be more friendly and enthusiastic to others, despite crash-landing on a strange planet and trying to recover memories of who you are and who you used to be. And if you’re a female comic-book character who is white in the comics but is now being played onscreen by a Black woman…well, you can expect a double dose of both racism and sexism in how f—kboys will choose to express their dissatisfaction. Even Maleficent, one of the most beloved villains of all time, isn’t allowed to be an actual villain in live-action form. Instead of being a ruthless fairy who refers to herself as the Mistress Of All Evil, she acts more like a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, as she’s portrayed as a snarky anti-heroine with a hidden heart of gold who isn’t even allowed to transform into a dragon and destroy her enemies, because it’s so much better to see her male servant do that instead.
The Last Seduction, which first opened in theaters on October 26, 1994, is a film where its main character is a woman who is also expected to be on her best behavior, and then spits all over those very same expectations as she unleashes Hell on everyone with the unfortunate luck of crossing her path.
Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino) is a New York City telemarketing manager whose husband, Clay (Bill Pullman), a hospital resident, is determined to put an end to the massive debt that he owes to a loan shark by stealing some pharmaceutical cocaine and selling it to a pair of drug dealers for $700,000. Everything goes smoothly, and Clay brings all of the money home for himself and Bridget, but the mood is ruined when Clay loses his temper with Bridget and slaps her in the face. The two manage to patch things up, and Clay goes to take a shower, which is when Bridget takes the entire $700,000 and disappears with the full intention of leaving New York and lying low in Chicago. On her way there, she makes a brief stop at a small town in upstate New York called Beston. Which is where she meets Mike (Peter Berg), an insurance executive who is immediately drawn to her and everything she represents in his desire to leave small-town life behind for good, and who Bridget is only interested in for sex and nothing else. Once Bridget realizes how badly Mike wants to leave Beston and start a new life (and do both of those things with her by his side), she begins hatching a plan that will give Bridget everything she wants, and none of that includes Mike in any way, shape, or form.
The Last Seduction was skillfully directed by John Dahl, who also directed Kill Me Again and Red Rock West, which were also a pair of critically acclaimed neo-noir films that went on to become a cult classics thanks to home video and cable. With such impressive films on his resumé, there were many people who expected Dahl to become a household name and direct additional films of equal quality. While the quality of his following films wasn’t always consistent, from the forgettable (Unforgettable, The Great Raid, You Kill Me) to the classics that found new life outside of movie theaters and would go on to make an impact (Rounders, Joy Ride), he definitely stayed busy and in demand, especially as a director of television shows such as Dexter, The Vampire Diaries, Justified, The Affair, and Billions, where his talents were put to good use.
Along with Dahl’s direction and Steve Barancik’s wickedly smart and funny screenplay, much of what made The Last Seduction such a timeless noir classic are the performances by its cast.
Bill Pullman is delightfully sleazy as Clay, who after she steals the money from him, sees Bridget as nothing more than a life preserver to keep him afloat in order to get himself out of debt and live comfortably. Throughout the film, Clay believes that he truly knows Bridget, and how far she’s willing to go to keep the money and stay out of his grasp once and for all. But he’s wrong. So incredibly wrong.
The late, great character actor Bill Nunn is Harlan, the private investigator hired by Clay to track down Bridget and the stolen money. He clearly enjoys being around Clay about as much as Bridget does, but is willing to deal with him in exchange for a percentage of the $700,000. Of course, when he finds Bridget, in a place where people will not hesitate to express their discomfort when it comes to being around Black people (and because there are so many places on this planet where this applies, I’ll be more specific and remind you that I’m referring to the town of Beston) and that, combined with his inexplicable need to live up to a ridiculous stereotype and earn Bridget’s seal of approval, ends up costing him dearly.
Another late and great character actor by the name of J.T. Walsh (the original “Hey, It’s That Guy!” of Fametracker.com fame) appears in the film as Frank, an attorney, former lover, and close friend to Bridget who seems to be every bit as ruthless as Bridget herself, and is willing to offer her some helpful advice on how to stay out of sight and as far away from Clay as possible.
Much like Clay, Mike Swale also views Bridget as a life preserver of sorts, in that he wants nothing more than to leave small-town life behind for good, and live comfortably someplace else where there’s a little more action and a lot less familiarity. But in order to do that, he’s willing to make reckless and short-sighted decisions for any woman who whispers enough promises into his ear. Unfortunately for him and his delusions in thinking that Bridget (or ‘Wendy Kroy,’ as Bridget calls herself while hiding in Beston) is the one and that she’s actually willing to open up and settle down, he eventually finds out that she wants none of those things. And what she wants, what she really, really wants, is for him to be gone and completely out of the picture, so that she can enjoy her money and enjoy living life deliciously however she sees fit.
When Bridget first meets Mike, she tells him that she actually can be nice if she wants to be. And as Bridget keeps showing us throughout the entirety of the film, there is a difference between being nice and being kind, and Bridget is neither one of those. As sexy and beautiful as she is (If you like movies where a woman is f—king a man up against a chain-link fence and doing so with more Big Dick Energy than the man she is f—king, The Last Seduction is the movie for you), she’s also cunning and manipulative and unrepentantly sociopathic, and anyone who is viewed as a hurdle on her way to the finish line will simply be kicked out of the way rather than jumped over. Much like Amy Elliott Dunne from Gillian Flynn’s novel and Anne Hathaway’s favorite romantic comedy Gone Girl, Bridget is the type of woman who can and will lie about being sexually assaulted in order to destroy a man’s life and reputation if it permits her to move on to much greener pastures. And of course, this type of behavior is something that most people would find evil and reprehensible, and not something that most women would actually do in real life. But as Gillian pointed out to those same people in an interview with fellow crime novelist Megan Abbott, Amy is a sociopath, not a normal person, and that description is one that also applies to Bridget Gregory. She learns no lessons, suffers no consequences for any of her actions, and would most definitely tell you or any other woman to shut the f—k up if you attempted to cheer her on out of some sense of female solidarity. Especially since solidarity of any kind carries as much weight as daylight as far as she’s concerned.
The Last Seduction received many rave reviews from critics (particularly by Roger Ebert), and many of those reviews lavished much of their praise on Fiorentino’s performance as Bridget. Despite the fact that Fiorentino won several awards for that performance, including the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead, the New York Film Critics Circle awards for Best Actress, and the Society of Texas Film Critics Award for Best Actress, she was considered ineligible by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress due to the fact that The Last Seduction premiered on cable rather than in theaters. It was and still is considered by many to be one of the most bone-headed and unfortunate oversights in Oscars history.
After appearing in several other movies (Unforgettable, Jade, Men In Black, Dogma, Where The Money Is, What Planet Are You From?, Liberty Stands Still), Linda Fiorentino seemingly disappeared and hasn’t been seen onscreen since 2009. Was it because of her crossing paths with Harvey Weinstein, or other studio execs like Harvey Weinstein, with a reputation for sexual assault and for ruining the careers of many an actress because of their willingness to inflict or allow sexual assault? Was it because of her apparent reputation of being difficult to work with on set? (Even Kevin Smith confirmed this when they worked together on Dogma, and it certainly wasn’t his first time butting heads on set with people he worked with, from Bruce Willis on Cop Out, to Reese Witherspoon on the set of Overnight Delivery, which resulted in Kevin referring to her as ‘Greasy Reesy’ for reasons that require you to click on this link) Since news of Weinstein’s abusive tendencies have come to light, many actresses whose reputations have been slandered while he was at the height of his power have been slowly making their way back into resuming their careers before Harvey and his supporters did their damage. Whatever the reason may be for her disappearing and keeping a low profile, it would certainly be interesting for Linda Fiorentino to be one of those actresses who suddenly makes a comeback and is talked about for her performances instead of her reputation. (Unless she actually is an asshole for cast and crew members to be around, in which case she can just stay gone, as the last thing needed on set for films and television shows is one more asshole making work and life difficult for everyone)
If there’s any truth to the existence of Hell, and to Madeleine Albright’s statement that there’s a special place in it for women who refuse to support other women, The Last Seduction is a movie about how Bridget Gregory is the kind of woman who you can expect to see there, smoking many a cigarette and drinking many a Manhattan, as she says and does the kind of things to both men and women that will make only her laugh and feel good, and remind you of why she would even be in Hell in the first place.