Cruel Intentions
directed by Roger Kumble
(Columbia Tristar, 1999)

Cruel Intentions is a modern interpretation of the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. After watching two other movies based on this book, it seems impossible that this one could have come from the same source. It is fascinating to see how the material can be applied to our current time and society.

This version focuses the action on teens in a private high school, which was definitely a new twist on the book. Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is the high school queen who rules the school as the ultimate high society prima donna snob. Her stepbrother, Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillipe), is the stud about town whose sole ambition is to notch his bedpost with as many conquests as possible. Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon) is the headmaster's daughter, the innocent virgin who maintains that love should precede sex. When Kathryn sees Valmont wooing Annette, she makes a bet with him that he cannot sleep with the girl. If he loses, she gets his Jaguar; if he wins, he gets her.

Unlike the other movies based on the book, this movie virtually eliminates Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair), who has only a minor part in the overall plot. In this version, Cecile is the richest kid in school. When the rich kids' sorority meets to discuss new kids at school, they decide they need her family's money but should ruin her reputation because she is the most "uncool" kid in the school. Kathryn says she will take care of it and demands that Valmont sleep with the girl.

The thing I really liked about this version is that, although it did flex the plot of the book, it had a triple twist at the end. Of all the endings I had imagined, none of these three were included. I was definitely surprised and I believe you will be, too. It is definitely not what you think.

Gellar was weaker in the role of Kathryn than I am used to seeing. She seemed not to have her heart in the role and it came across on the screen. She could have played the part better by putting more body language into her words. She did the physical seduction parts well, but was dry in the dialogue. I was disappointed with her and felt her overall performance was not up to her usual high quality. Perhaps she should have passed this role by.

Phillipe was outstanding as Valmont. He fit the part well and played it strongly. I do not think he could have improved on his performance. Everything was smooth and "real." Witherspoon took the star role in this movie. She was awesome, especially toward the end. I cannot tell you more without spoiling the movie, but she definitely displays her talent in diversity with this role.

I urge you to collect all the movies from this movie and to watch in progression from the earliest to this one. It is a real viewing treat. Although this one is my least favorite, I still enjoyed it and would recommend it. I hope you will watch it soon.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 8 March 2003

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