To Die For is a 1995 satirical black comedy film[6] directed by Gus Van Sant, and written by Buck Henry based on Joyce Maynard‘s novel of the same name, which in turn was inspired by the story of Pamela Smart. It stars Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix and Matt Dillon, with Illeana Douglas, Wayne Knight, Casey Affleck, Kurtwood Smith, Dan Hedaya, and Alison Folland in supporting roles. Kidman was nominated for a BAFTA, and won a Golden Globe Award and a Best Actress Award at the 1st Empire Awards[7] for her performance. Her character has been described as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder in the scientific journal BMC Psychiatry.[8]

To Die For
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGus Van Sant
Screenplay byBuck Henry
Based onTo Die For
by Joyce Maynard
Produced byLaura Ziskin
CinematographyEric Alan Edwards
Edited byCurtiss Clayton
Music byDanny Elfman
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing (North America)[2]
Rank-Castle Rock/Turner[3] (United Kingdom)
Release dates
  • 20 May 1995 (1995-05-20) (Cannes)
  • 29 September 1995 (1995-09-29) (Canada)
  • 6 October 1995 (1995-10-06) (United States)
  • 27 October 1995 (1995-10-27) (United Kingdom)
Running time
106 minutes
  • United States
  • United Kingdom[4]
Budget$20 million
Box office$41 million[5]

The film includes cameos by George Segal, David Cronenberg, author Maynard, and screenwriter Henry. It features original music by Danny Elfman.

Plot edit

In the fictional town of Little Hope, New Hampshire, Suzanne Stone is a glamorous and ambitious young woman who has always been obsessed with being on television, aspiring to become a world-famous broadcast journalist. She begins a passionate romance with Larry Maretto, an Italian American, whom her parents disapprove of, and the two quickly marry. Despite the differences between their families, the two seemingly settle into married life happily, and Larry promises to support her career ambitions. She uses his family restaurant business to keep herself financially stable and takes a job as an assistant at WWEN, a local cable station, in hopes of climbing the network ladder. Through relentless persistence, she is eventually promoted to doing the station's evening weather report.

Suzanne goes to a local high school to recruit subjects for a documentary she is producing, Teens Speak Out, that focuses on various issues teenagers are facing. She immediately attracts two delinquents, Jimmy Emmett and Russel Hines, and befriends Lydia Mertz, a shy and insecure girl who admires Suzanne’s glamor and worldliness. Larry begins pressuring Suzanne to give up her career in favor of helping out at the restaurant and starting a family with him. As he becomes more persistent, Suzanne views him as an impediment to her desired future and immediately begins plotting his murder. She seduces Jimmy and convinces him to murder Larry by falsely claiming abuse and promising they will have a future together in California once Larry is dead. She also manipulates Lydia into procuring a gun. One night while Suzanne delivers the evening weather report, Jimmy and Russell break into the Marettos' condo, and Jimmy shoots Larry to death.

Though Larry's death is ruled the result of a botched burglary, the police stumble across a Teens Speak Out clip of Suzanne at their school, which points to her sexual involvement with Jimmy. The teens are arrested and connected to the crime scene. Lydia makes a deal with the police to converse with Suzanne while wearing a wire, and Suzanne unwittingly reveals her hand in the murder. However, despite this damning evidence, Suzanne argues that the police resorted to entrapment and is released on bail. All the charges against Suzanne are dropped.

Basking in the media spotlight, however, Suzanne fabricates a story about Larry being a cocaine addict who was murdered by Jimmy and Russell, his purported dealers. Jimmy and Russell are sentenced to life in prison. Russell gets his sentence reduced while Lydia is released on probation. Meanwhile, Larry's father, Joe, realizes Suzanne was behind his son's death and uses his mafia connections to have her murdered. A hitman lures Suzanne away from her home by posing as a movie studio executive, kills her, and conceals her body beneath a frozen lake.

Lydia tells her side of the story in a televised interview and gains national attention, becoming a celebrity. Janice, Larry's sister who always hated Suzanne, practices her figure skating on the frozen lake where Suzanne's corpse lies.

Cast edit

Production edit

To Die For is a mixture of styles, combining a traditional drama with darkly comic direct-to-camera monologues by Kidman's character, and mockumentary interviews, some tragic, with certain of the other characters in the film.[9]

The film and the novel it is based on were both inspired by the facts that emerged during the trial of Pamela Smart, a school media services coordinator who was imprisoned for seducing a 16-year-old student and convincing him to kill her husband.[10][11]

The role of Suzanne Stone was originally offered to Meg Ryan, who turned down the part and the $5 million salary offered.[12][11] Kidman, who was later cast in the role, was paid $2 million.[13]

The film was primarily shot in Toronto in 1994.[14] High school scenes at "Little Hope High" were filmed at King City Secondary School in King City, Ontario, and some actual students of the school were cast as extras.

The honeymoon scenes with Larry and Suzanne were filmed in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.[15]

Reception edit

Critical reception edit

The film was screened out of competition at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.[16] To Die For was very well received by critics, with Nicole Kidman's performance being especially praised. The film holds an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 61 reviews, where the consensus reads "Smart, funny, and thoroughly well-cast, To Die For takes a sharp – and sadly prescient – stab at dissecting America's obsession with celebrity."[17] On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 86 out of 100 based on reviews from 23 critics.[18]

Katherine Ramsland of Crime Library describes the film as an example of a work displaying women with antisocial personalities; Ramsland describes Suzanne as a "manipulator extraordinaire" who harms people through third parties.[19]

In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin called the film "an irresistible black comedy and a wicked delight" and added, "[it] takes aim at tabloid ethics and hits a solid bull's-eye, with Ms. Kidman's teasingly beautiful Suzanne as the most alluring of media-mad monsters. The target is broad, but Gus Van Sant's film is too expertly sharp and funny for that to matter; instead, it shows off this director's slyness better than any of his work since Drugstore Cowboy ... Both Mr. Van Sant and Ms. Kidman have reinvented themselves miraculously for this occasion, which brings out the best in all concerned."[20]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said of Kidman, "[she] brings to the role layers of meaning, intention and impulse. Telling her story in close-up – as she does throughout the film – Kidman lets you see the calculation, the wheels turning, the transparent efforts to charm that succeed in charming all the same ... her beauty and magnetism are electric. Undeniably she belongs on camera, which means it's equally undeniable that Suzanne belongs on camera. That in itself is an irony, a commentary or both."[21]

Writing in 2007, Emanuel Levy stated, "mean-spirited satire, told in mock-tabloid style, this film features the best performance of Nicole Kidman to date (better than The Hours for which she won an Oscar), as an amoral small-town girl obsessed with becoming a TV star."[22]

American Film Institute recognition:

Box office edit

The film grossed $21 million in the United States and Canada and $41 million worldwide.[2][5]

Home media edit

To Die For was released on VHS following its theatrical release and on DVD on November 10, 1998.[25] It was released on Blu-ray on November 8, 2011.[26] A 4K remaster of the film was released by The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray on March 26, 2024.[27]

References edit

  1. ^ "To Die For (1995) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  2. ^ a b "To Die For (1995)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  3. ^ "To Die For (1995)". BBFC. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  4. ^ "To Die For". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved 1 April 2024.
  5. ^ a b "Planet Hollywood". Screen International. 30 August 1996. pp. 14–15.
  6. ^ Deming, Mark. "To Die For (1995) - Gus Van Sant | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  7. ^ "Empire Awards Past Winners - 1996". Empire. 2003. Archived from the original on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  8. ^ Hesse, Morten; Schliewe, Sanna; Thomsen, Rasmus R. (2005). "Rating of personality disorder features in popular movie characters". BMC Psychiatry. 5. London: BioMed Central: 45. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-5-45. PMC 1325244. PMID 16336663.
  9. ^ Strauss, Bob (5 October 1995). "A Role To Die For". Los Angeles Daily News. Archived from the original on 28 May 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2010 – via Sun Sentinel.
  10. ^ Goldberg, Noah (3 November 2020). "Infamous husband-killer Pamela Smart calls for review of 1991 conviction after prosecutor comes under fire in separate Brooklyn murder case". New York Daily News.
  11. ^ a b Hunt, Stacey Wilson (16 July 2020). "'To Die For' at 25: An Oral History of the Risky Indie-Meets-Studio Triumph". IndieWire. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  12. ^ Corliss, Richard (24 June 2001). "An Actress To Die For". Time. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012.
  13. ^ Thomson, David (2006). Nicole Kidman. Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-0747577102.
  14. ^ Ryan, Desmond (14 October 1995). "Van Sant tweaks TV with 'To Die For'". Lawrence Journal-World. Knight-Ridder News Service. p. 8D. Retrieved 20 April 2024.
  15. ^ "Bay area exposure is "To Die For'". Tampa Bay Times. 20 October 1995. Retrieved 20 April 2024.
  16. ^ "Festival de Cannes: To Die For". Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  17. ^ "To Die For". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 21 August 2023.
  18. ^ "To Die For". Metacritic. Retrieved 4 January 2023.
  19. ^ Ramsland, Katherine. "Women Who Kill, Part Two - Crime Library on". truTV. Archived from the original on 23 May 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  20. ^ Maslin, Janet (27 September 1995). "FILM REVIEW; To Die For; She Trusts in TV's Redeeming Power". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 21 May 2011. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  21. ^ LaSalle, Mike (6 October 1995). "Film Review-- Kidman Monstrously Good in 'To Die For'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 29 April 2009.
  22. ^ Levy, Emanuel (8 May 2006). "To Die For".
  23. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Nominees" (PDF). p. 59. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  24. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 December 2015. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  25. ^ Sant, Gus Van (10 November 1998). To Die For. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Retrieved 11 April 2024 – via Amazon.
  26. ^ "Blu-ray News and Reviews | High Def Digest". Retrieved 11 April 2024.
  27. ^ Cole, Jake (22 March 2024). "'To Die For' 4K Blu-ray Review: The Criterion Collection". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 11 April 2024.

External links edit