Killing Me Softly


"Would this film had made it to American movie theaters had someone like Julia Roberts or Nicole Kidman played the Heather Graham role?"

- Alvin George

Killing Me Softly (2001)

Director: Chen Kaige

Cast: Heather Graham, Joseph Fiennes, Natascha McElhone

Writer: Kara Lindstrom (based on book by Nicci French)

Producer: Lynda Myles, Joe Medjuck, Michael Chinich

Running Time: 102 min.

Plot: An American businesswoman living in London weds a mysterious British mountain climber.


ALVIN GEORGE'S REVIEW: In March 2003, only about four years after being Mike Myers' leading lady in the blockbuster smash "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," Heather Graham went straight to video in the USA in this UK-Stateside coproduction directed by Chinese director Chen Kaige of "Farewell, My Concubine" fame. The other big "loser" in this movie is Joseph Fiennes, a respectable British actor who appeared opposite Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow in 1998's "Shakespeare in Love." In the past, direct-to-video movies have been stereotypically associated with B-grade exploitation flicks starring such people as Eric Roberts, Tanya Roberts, Dolph Lundgren, Michael Dudikoff, Don "The Dragon" Wilson, and Cynthia Rothrock. In the last decade, however, it seems like many relative A-listers have found themselves going the direct-to-DVD route, and not just action heroes like Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Wesley Snipes, and Sylvester Stallone. I'm talking about Hollywood stars who have often had an air of respectability around them; people like Morgan Freeman, Val Kilmer, Kevin Spacey, Meg Ryan, Dennis Quaid, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ben Affleck, and [certain actress Alvin is too scared to mention]. The movies these stars often go direct to video in are (apparently) ambitious indie flicks that somehow fail to find distributors willing to release them to theaters, not something conceived to go straight to the video bin right from the beginning. Obviously the studios want to release big-screen movies that are readily marketable. Unfortunately, a direct-to-DVD release too often seems to send a message that a certain movie is to be regarded as trash alongside the average piece of softcore porn.

Yes, "Killing Me Softly" does have its problems, not the least of them promiscuous behavior and a rampant air of sexuality that would have likely caused it to be labeled "morally offensive" by the USCCB's Office for Film and Broadcasting had it made it to American movie theaters. (USCCB stands for United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in case you don't know.) In fact, the film received scathing reviews from critics based on the European side of the Atlantic, one of the apparent reasons for the movie's Stateside fate. But it seems unfair to me that such disreputable pictures as "Hostel" and "The Hottie & the Nottie" are able to land in theaters while relatively "artistic" stuff like this suffers an unseemly fate by comparison.

Without going into too much detail, let me say that "Killing Me Softly" often plays like a distaff version of the 1987 box-office hit "Fatal Attraction." The film is technically competent, to say the least, with good location work in London, England. On the basis of this film, it seems like Heather Graham is no longer quite the effervescent cutie pie who graced such movies as "Boogie Nights" and the aforementioned Austin Powers movie. In fact, the latter flick featured footage of Ms. Graham in a black "beavertail" wet suit that went by too quickly and was shot from too far away. I would probably have developed a serious crush on her if not for her apparently rejection of her Roman Catholic upbringing. (As you might have guessed, this reviewer is a devout Catholic.) And, yes, Heather does have nude scenes in this film. Joseph Fiennes is a fine actor, but I didn't care for the tattoo he has on his back in "Killing Me Softly." The denouement is, quite, frankly, something of a disappointment. Overall, "Killing Me Softly" deserved a better fate than a straight-to-video release in the US, but not too much better.

One question: Would this film had made it to American movie theaters had someone like Julia Roberts or Nicole Kidman played the Heather Graham role? (In a Hollywood where seemingly only one star, namely Will Smith, is capable of ensuring a film's release to theaters based on his participation alone, things look very bleak indeed--not that I have anything against the guy, of course.)