23 June 2010

Review: "Body Heat"

It is a shame that so few people of my generation know who Kathleen Turner is outside of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but I do love films from the 80s! In Body Heat, Turner's 1981 seductive film debut, she showed audiences that she had more more to offer than her body - which was on full display. Kathleen Turner's provocative sexuality was a perfect fit for Body Heat, a film set in the Floridian summer about a man willing to kill his lover's husband. Her performance led to some very juicy film roles, including Romancing the Stone (1984), Prizzi's Honor (1985) which won an Oscar for Anjelica Huston, and my person favourite Kathleen Turner film, 1986's Peggy Sue Got Married. It is unfortunate that rheumatoid arthritis affected her film career, but Kathleen Turner can be seen on television's Californication showcasing her sexuality. Body Heat costars William Hurt and features Ted Danson and Mickey Rourke, all appearing in one of their first film roles. The film is directed by Lawrence Kasdan who had been a writer for two blockbuster films, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). His later films include the pop culture standards The Big Chill (1983) and The Bodyguard (1992). Body Heat is classified as a modern noir, but film fans know that it is a challenging genre. A film cannot sacrifice its characters for the sake of the plot and Body Heat succeeds because it understands its characters. With great performances by its lead actors, strong direction from Lawrence Kasdan, exceptional cinematography and a great score by John Barry, Body Heat is worthy of being included amongst the great film noirs of the 1980s.

Ned Racine (William Hurt) is a somewhat incompetent lawyer living in Florida. During a heatwave he begins having an affair with Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). Matty wants to leave her husband Edmund (Richard Crenna), a wealthy businessman, but a prenuptial agreement has blocked her access to his money. The pair go to great lengths to keep their affair a secret, but they are caught by an old friend of Matty's and by Edmund's young niece. They agree that the only chance they have at happiness and wealth is to kill Edmund. Ned plans the murder with the help of a former client (Mikey Rourke) who has experience with explosives. Ned and Matty believe they have concocted the perfect murder, but there are too many holes that lead Ned's friends Oscar Grace (J.A. Preston), a police detective, and Peter Lowenstein (Ted Danson), an assistant prosecutor, to believe he was somehow involved. It does not help that after Edmund's death Matty announces that she and Edmund met with Ned to write a new will that would leave the entire estate to Matty. Ned also continues his relationship with Matty, this time out in the open, though he soon begins to question Matty's loyalty. Eventually some of the events from the night of the murder threaten their relationship and Ned discovers some alarming information.

Kathleen Turner's Matty is absolutely a femme fatale, a woman whose allure and charm forced Ned into a dangerous predicament. In Body Heat she is gifted at disguising her true intentions and I even found myself caught in her web. The film uses the heat and the fog of Florida as a character, it hides and conceals things from the audience. I have complained in the past of films being too dark (in terms of lighting, like Batman Begins), but a noir depends so heavily on cinematography that the dark lighting in a necessity. The scene after Edmund has been murdered and Ned is driving through the thick fog is made more powerful by the expert cinematography. There are countless films that have tried to achieve the success of Body Heat, but there are so few actresses that have the provocative allure of Kathleen Turner along with great acting instincts. A lesser actress would have seen the role as an opportunity to disrobe and bare their assets for future roles, but Kathleen Turner used the power of sex to fool Ned and the audience. It is hard to believe that only five years later we believed she was the mother of a young Helen Hunt in Peggy Sue Got Married.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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