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Black Widow (1987) – DVD Review

Black Widow DVD


Written by Ronald Bass
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Starring Debra Winger, Theresa Russell, Terry O’Quinn, Sami Frey

Released by: Fox Home Entertainment.
Rating: R
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Catch it on cable.

Alexandra Barnes (Winger) analyzes data for the Department of Justice while yearning for the excitement of fieldwork. She may have found her chance when she stumbles on several unusual deaths. Several wealthy and older men die leaving all their money to their new younger bride. This woman (Russell) then liquidates their assets and disappears. Her bosses are skeptical; finding it hard to believe in a woman who can skillfully ensnare men in holy matrimony, then just as skillfully kill them with no indication of foul play. Still, Alex thinks she finds the next victim but is too late to save him. Driven by guilt as well as the need to prove herself, she follows her prey to Hawaii. Alex begins a subtle duel with this woman with feints and parries hidden in every phrase and look. As they dance, the lines between hunter and prey start to blur. Who will get in the final blow, Alex or the Black Widow?

[ad#longpost]Thrillers nowadays hand everything to you. Movies like Murder By Numbers and Swimfan spoonfeed you all the motivation and exposition without letting you figure the situation out on your own. You get the scene where the character’s reason for killing people is laid out in a simple monologue with the creepy music. And of course there’s the final scene where the killer and the investigator face off in a final battle. Now Black Widow has the opposite problem: it does too little. It is never made clear if Russell’s character is killing these men for money or some sort of pathology. It’s not that the movie plays with this concept that would be interesting to watch; it’s just never dealt with at all. It’s more of an absence of motive than conflicting motives.

A scene with Russell searching for her next victim would have been a wonderful way to demonstrate this. If she dutifully researches, it shows more calculation than madness. Watching her totally submerge into the role she will play to get her man would have also been an interesting scene. But we get none of this and the movie is weaker for it. Winger’s character also has this problem. It would be understandable that Alex Barnes would feel guilty that she let her quarry get away and take out another husband to boot. But they never establish her as someone who would be willing to quit her job, sell most of her possessions and go to Hawaii to get this woman.

This lack is really a shame since this is a thriller that could have made something out of itself. There isn’t the overpowering sense of the grotesque or other “serial killer” cliches you get in later thrillers like Silence of the Lambs, Seven, or any movie with Ashley Judd. One thing I noticed is how the scenes were shot to give a sense of place. You’re not in Anytown U.S.A, but you feel that you actually are in Seattle, Washington, or Hawaii. But this care in cinematography can’t compensate for the lack of color in the characters and plot. And since the disc has no extras to recommend it, I would wait for cable to see Black Widow.

Black Widow

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