Sometimes a rainy Sunday is perfect for revisiting favorite movies, and Gus Van Sant's black comedic true crime satire, To Die For is definitely a favorite of mine. The cast is at their peak. Matt Dillon is radiantly slovenly and Nicole Kidman still looks like a blooming real human being and, in a career of very few bright spots performance-wise, she's brutally excellent as a psychopath. She is the blond, perfectly coiffed personification of a certain fame seeking, ambitious, and broken part of our culture. Ileana Douglas also shines and look out for cameos by David Cronenberg and the films screenwriter, Buck Henry.
While the film satirizes the searing ambition that can lead people to kill, and points out our insatiable lust for the torrid tabloid tales that follow, it's also one of the best examples of true crime entertainment. Any fan of Joaquin Phoenix would also agree that it's one of the steamiest as well. (Which is a little creepy considering the story's of a teenager seduced into murder by a grown woman.)
Here, as the seduced teenage burnout, Phoenix is pretty much the embodiment of my teenage desires: he's off-kilteredly handsome, blindly lustful, denim and leather dirty, very dumb and a little bit sad. One can't help but feel a pang of sympathy for the kid as he sits in a junk yard looking off in the distance, walleyed and slack jawed and calls his polka dot and manicured mistress “clean” with longing.
The film is based on the novel To Die For, which was itself inspired by the true, sordid, tabloid sensation crime of one Pam Smart. Also a call in show called Metal Madness), Pamela also seduced a boy (Billy Flynn) and convinced he and his friends to kill her husband. She is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole and Flynn, having served more of his life in prison that outside, recently asked for (and was denied) a reduced sentence.