Body Heat (1981) 4.66/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 84
Genre: Thriller, Film-Noir
Duration: 113 mins
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Stars: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna

Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat is one of the very few “neo noirs” which stands toe to toe with the best the 1940’s & 50’s served up. From that magnificently sultry opening blanketed by John Barry’s utterly captivating score, this film is as perfect a blending of pace, personality, plot, and momentum as we have seen in a thriller since the latter part of the 50’s with the possible exception of Chinatown. Essentially, this is Double Indemnity only the male lead (William Hurt) is a crumby defence attorney instead of an insurance salesman (his profession gives him a similar insight into how one might commit the perfect crime). Kathleen Turner is just as scheming as Stanwyck but if anything, she’s even more subtle and even more manipulative. Her plan to reel Hurt into the murder of her husband is spun with more delicacy and patience and downright craft than that of Wilder’s and Chandler’s story. It is these little differences that represent the true strength to Kasdan’s film in that it is less archetyped than typical films noirs and, as such, the characters and their deeds are refreshingly more true to life. For example, Hurt’s character isn’t exactly the prototypical tough guy we see in so many of the 40’s thrillers. Instead, he’s a little bit charming but also a bit naive. A bit sly, but also a bit dumb. This is film-noir with real people!

Though Kasdan is clearly having fun with the genre by subverting its character conventions, he also pushes it forward through his clever use of those conventions which he does embrace. For example, his use of light and shadow in the context of the coloured photography helps to make the various characters’ sweaty bodies (the film is set during a heat wave) an oppressive force which works wonderfully on a metaphorical as well as visceral level. The colour also gives his brilliantly staged locations and sets a more striking level of detail while light shines through blinds and cell bars alike hiding or revealing eyes to suit the purpose of the scene. Much of what’s caught on camera, therefore, is bathed in a rich darkness, which accentuates the deeply seductive themes running through the film (again much like Chinatown).

As you would expect with Hurt and Turner in the leads, the acting is straight out of the top drawer. Hurt gives a peculiar little performance even by his standards and throws just enough bewildering stares at his co-stars to keep the audience engrossed through the slow build-up. Turner is masterful as the veiled predator as she manipulates her audience in much the same way as her character is manipulating her quarry. The dialogue too is as razor sharp as the best noirs (“You’re not too smart. I like that in a man”) but also softly nuanced when it needs to be. All of this plays out in neat step with Barry’s sublime score which, like everything else in this perfect little movie gem, sets and maintains the atmosphere from scene one.

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