And Justice for Most

Storm clouds form when Suzanne's regular-guy husband Larry (Matt Dillon in low-key charming mode), who supported her career enthusiastically at first, expresses doubts that her weather-babe gig will ever lead to anything better. And when he pushes her to think about raising a family, Suzanne takes a course of action that reveals the murderous soul behind the lethal gams and killer smile.

Without having read the Joyce Maynard novel of the same name from which To Die For was taken, I find it hard to divine how much of the movie's scathingly dry humor and barbed satire flowed from screenwriter Buck Henry's pen and how much from Maynard's. Small matter -- the final result does them both proud. In Suzanne Stone they have created a perfect heroine-villainess to reflect the reality of media-altered, fame-crazed modern America. And the film's ending -- without giving too much away, let's just say Ronald Goldman's grieving parents might derive some comfort from it -- ranks as, in this reviewer's jaundiced opinion, one of the nastiest, funniest, and most satisfying ever. Even though recent real-life events have proven otherwise, it's comforting to believe for a moment that fame is no defense against justice.

Just when you think vampire movies have been done to death, along comes Nadja, writer-director Michael (Another Girl Another Planet) Almereyda's hallucinatory, hypnotic postmodern variation on the bloodsucking theme. Almereyda's moody black-and-white meditation feels more like a heroin dream than a horror flick.

Elina Lowensohn -- who appeared in Another Girl and recently played one of the leads in Hal Hartley's Amateur, appearing opposite her Nadja costar Martin Donovan -- plays the title role here, a love-starved member of the undead whose complex emotions render her all too human. Nadja comes from a supernaturally dysfunctional family and is herself forever haunted by "the pain of fleeting joy." L”wensohn cements her status as independent cinema's Garbo with this performance. Few, if any, actresses working today can go deliciously, unselfconsciously over-the-top -- to the point where you almost wince at the melodramatic overacting -- and then bail themselves out with a downcast look, unconventional phrasing, or an achingly vulnerable glance. Lowensohn pulls it off.

In addition to Lowensohn and Donovan, Peter Fonda rides easily through his role as a hyper vampire killer looking to pound a stake through Nadja's heart. It's been quite a while since Fonda could sink his teeth into a part so well-tailored to his peculiar talents; the actor's comic timing has never been better.

But the star of this film is really Almereyda's lush black-and-white photography, which evokes the era of great silent films. The writer-director incorporates film stock shot on a $45 toy camera (called Pixelvision and manufactured by Fisher-Price) that gives certain scenes a mysterious abstract look. The resulting sequences are blurred and hazy, as if they've just bubbled up from the subconscious. When the director backs his low-tech, bargain-basement special effect with the melancholy musical meanderings of Portishead, the atmosphere fairly congeals with portent. In the final analysis, atmospherics and acting separate Nadja from all the other suckers out there.

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