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The Friend or Dafoe?

The Friend or Dafoe?

Articles - Directing

Prior to Body of Evidence‘s theatrical release
a rumor floated that if the film did not perform well, the producers
had an NC-17 version waiting in the wings. Supposedly it contained
some nasty stuff which was laundered from the theater version.

While the NC-17 version has not appeared, video viewers
can choose between an R-rated and an unrated edition, which according
to the box "contains footage never seen before."

Not much, apparently, for the unrated version is only
two minutes longer than the theatrical release. Except for a prolonged
masturbation scene and an oral sex sequence, the two are identical.
Given Madonna’s image and her seemingly unlimited enthusiasm for
exploring sex in all of its deviations, the extra footage is hardly
needed to establish her character’s credibility.

Set in Portland, Oregon, which seems to be perpetually
draped in fog and smog, the film is a 140 minute exercise in tedium
and improbability.

When her lover dies hand-cuffed to his bed watching
them making love on videotape, his secretary Anne Archer tells prosecutor
Joe Mantegna that Madonna murdered him. Mantegna bases his case
on the theory that-to put it more delicately than the movie doesshe
literally loved her man to death.

Attorney Willem Dafoe defends her, because he believes
her when she says "A big part of my life has been taken away
and people will say it was dirty." He also finds her irresistible
and soon they’re into all sorts of sexual gymnastics including a
bit of bondage, sadomasochism and anal sex.

The bulk of the movie is devoted to a trial, which more
or less confirms everything we already know. To break the monotony,
a nude’ or sex scene is thrown in about every 10 minutes.

The sex and trial are supposed to build suspense as
to whether Madonna will beat the rap and how Dafoe will prove that
she really didn’t do it. He doesn’t have to, thanks to some sloppy
research on Mantegna’s part and Dafoe’s diligent assistant who sticks
with the sex videotape to the end.

Meanwhile, you’re more likely to wonder whether Dafoe
will survive being burned with hot candle wax and sex on broken
glass to make his final pitch to the jury. As he risks career and
family by continuing the affair, you also wonder if this simpleton
really has the smarts to save himself or defend anyone.

The final revelation reveals an elaborate scheme which
to make it work, depended on everything falling into place just
as it did. Anyone who was bright enough to dream it up would also
realize that there were too many factors which depended on chance,
and would never have tried it in the first place.

Everyone acts as if they had their minds on something
else- possibly their careers. Only Madonna seems confident, perhaps
because she knows that regardless of the movie is received, the
character fits nicely with the image that has made her so successful.
Mantegna’s far enough down in the credits that it really isn’t his
movie, so he’s fairly comfortable as the prosecutor. Dafoe and Julianne
Moore, who plays his wife, both look worried. Anne Archer, who had
a promising future before this, seems so desperate and uptight that
one has the feeling that she’s constantly searching for a way out
of this mess.

Light Sleeper, with Dafoe and Susan Sarandon,
picked up a three-and-a-half star rating from USA Today and thumbs
up from Siskel and Ebert. Although it has flaws, the film features
a fine, sensitive performance from Dafoe and a strong, restrained
one from Sarandon. Both reach beyond their personas to create real,
believable people, who have worked together for several years and
are going in separate directions.

Writer/director Paul Schrader’s script has Sarandon
heading a small threeperson drug dealing business, with Defoe as
the delivery and pick-up man. "We’re family," she says,
and as the fihn progresses we do have the feeling that they really
care about other people, and worry about each others futures. More
concerned with exploring relationships and character than dealing
drugs, the film is moody, slow moving, and shot mostly at night
in New York.

Unfortunately, Schrader was not as successful in creating
a story to support his characters. After Sarandon tells Dafoe that
she’s quitting dealing and going into cosmetics, he wanders the
streets for a while, and visits psychic reader Mary

Beth Hurt.   The character is superfluous
and ultimately hurts the film, as the psychic exists mainly to throw
out a few red herrings, and to assure him that "everything
you need is around you. The only danger is inside you." By
then its been pretty well established that Defoe has never thought
o£ his future beyond a vague, spur-of-the-moment desire to get into
the music business.

During his wanderings he meets Dana Delany. Several
years ago they were lovers when both were addicts. After they make
love, she goes back to drugs, takes up with one of his clients,
and commits suicide. Her transformation happens so fast, you’re
left feeling that a sequence was probably left out of the final
cut. For no apparent reason Defoe believes she was murdered, and
the film winds down as kind of a half-hearted revenge trip motivated
by guilt. MM

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