One mistake can change your life.
A pulpy B-grade film-noir in the spirit of Body Heat (1981), Fatal Attraction (1987), and Obsessed (2009), Fatale is the latest in a long line of erotic ‘one-mistake-can-change-your-life’ type thrillers. This film focuses on a stalkerish, psychotic white woman, played by Hilary Swank, who pursues a rich black man, portrayed by Michael Ealy. Directed by Deon Taylor — whose bonkers 2009 film, The Intruder, saw a crazed Dennis Quaid torment new homeowner Michael Ealy, yet again — Fatale is a formulaic but watchable endeavor which is made passable by its committed cast and glossy production wherein our protagonists drive flashy cars and live in luxurious multi-million-dollar mansions enjoying magic hour views.
Michael Ealy plays Derrick Tyler, an ex-college basketball star turned successful L.A. sports agent who’s built his own company from the ground up with the help of his partner Rafe (Mike Colter). Derrick seemingly has it all; he’s wealthy, lives in a lavish hillside home, and has a beautiful wife, real-estate agent Tracie (Damaris Lewis). Rafe, however, is pressuring Derrick to sell their company to a larger corporation, while the spark in Derrick’s marriage is missing and he suspects that Tracie might be having an affair.
Whilst away for a weekend in Vegas for a bachelor party, Derrick vents to Rafe about his problems and decides to put in more of an effort with Tracie to try and get their connection back on track. While there, though, he removes his wedding ring to forget about his troubles and just simply let loose. Derrick meets an attractive woman at a bar named Val (Hilary Swank) and strikes up a conversation, introducing himself as Darren from Seattle. One thing leads to another and the pair find themselves sharing a bed, having a night of steamy sex. Alarm bells start to ring the next morning when the guilt-stricken Derrick attempts to sneak off, but Val refuses to let her one-night stand get away.
Once back in the City of Angels, Derrick’s home gets broken into by a masked intruder who almost shoots Derrick before fleeing. When the LAPD are called to investigate, the detective assigned to the case turns out to be Hilary Swank’s Valerie Quinlan, who seems to be relishing the fact that she’s caught her Vegas bedmate in a sticky situation. She keeps their tryst secret but turns up to Derrick’s home and high-rise office at an alarmingly frequent rate. We soon discover that she’s using her profession and connections to try and get custody of her daughter who she lost because of her own irresponsibility and is making life tough for her ex-husband, politician Carter Heywood (Danny Pino). Carter has remarried and wants nothing to do with Val. With Derrick under her thumb Val decides to use him and his loved ones in a nasty undertaking to try and regain custody of her child.
Written by David Loughery, who penned similar films Lakeview Terrace (2008), Obsessed (2009), and Taylor’s The Intruders, Fatale has fun with its lurid twists and turns and offers enough soap opera thrills and spills to keep viewers from asking too many questions. The film is enjoyable enough, even if it runs for too long and eventually winds up in familiar territory. Whilst the movie briefly touches on issues of race — how many will side with Val over Derrick because of her color? — there’s very little below the surface.
Fortunately, the movie looks very polished thanks to the high-quality production design by Charlie Campbell, Cliffs of Freedom (2019), who makes good use of the movie’s glam backdrop. Also in the film’s favor is the refined cinematography by Dante Spinotti, Heat (1995), who uses a myriad of sleek neon colors throughout the proceedings.
It helps that Hilary Swank, who serves as a producer on the film, delivers an icy performance and goes into full psycho mode as the calculated Val, who makes for a solid villain while being believable as a mother, police officer, and stalker. The nervy Michael Ealy is also amusing as the poor schmuck taunted by the sinister Swank; their cat-and-mouse interplay is constantly fiery. Damaris Lewis, BlacKkKlansman (2018), is also decent as Derrick’s wife Tracie, despite having little to really do — I was hoping she’d get to square off against Swank at some point during the film à la Beyoncé vs. Ali Larter in Obsessed. Then there’s Tyrin Turner, Menace II Society (1993), who does a fine job in his handful of scenes as Derrick’s loyal cousin who gets involved in the drama after realizing his ‘cuz’ could do with some help from the hood.
Ultimately, Fatale is a cheesy 90’s-esque thriller that offers just enough to get by with a pass. It doesn’t re-invent the formula or do anything particularly fresh with it, but Hilary Swank’s unhinged turn as the titular femme fatale and a vivid palette make it a decent night’s guilty pleasure.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)