on April 11, 2005
Fiesty Federal Investigator is hot on the trail of a husband-killer, but to catch her she has to think like the killer thinks and play her game...I would love to see a rematch of these two dynamite femme stars, Debra Winger and Theresa Russell. The movie world needs them. Russell, as an actress, generally lacks Winger's inner-fire, but some of her close-ups are more revealing than her dialogue anyway(watch for the scene on the beach after the scuba diving accident). In 1987, this was considered a modest hit which got generally good reviews(Roger Ebert panned it, however). So it's fair to say the movie is highly underrated and should be seen by anyone who loves a good mystery or a great acting match between two top-flight stars. Supporting performances are also very good, and the direction is tricky & tight right up until the final scene(which seems a little rushed). Great cinematography, suspenseful music by Michael Small, incredible Winger & Russell!
You can just about forget everyone else in this film other than Debra Winger and Theresa Russell. This sexy film is basically a two person film noir shot in bright colors, some of it in Hawaii. It is filled with excitement and seduction. Both the leads are wonderful to watch, their chemistry magnificent in this Bob Rafelson (Man Trouble, Five Easy Pieces) film.
Debra Winger is Alex Barnes, bogged down in a government desk job dealing with statistics. But when she sees a pattern of deaths that lead to Theresa Russell, a dangerously beautiful woman with ice in her veins, she becomes obsessed with catching a killer. Theresa Russell, who has used more names than Jason Bourne, is just as smart as she is sexy, and almost the entire film is one long seduction scene as Russell spins her web around Alex.
It seems a lot of rich men have suddenly died on Russell and Alex knows why. She is what is called a Black Widow, a woman who mates and then kills. No one has found any evidence to prove it, however, and Alex's attempt to catch her at it becomes murky as a seduction begins to take place.
The locations and the stars are beautiful and as Winger and Russell circle each other in this game with deadly stakes you can't take your eyes off them. Winger's Alex is smart and determined, but vulnerable, and Russell gives a flawless and sexy performance as a smart and icy beauty with a heart full of venom.
The electricity between the two characters jumps off the screen. The pool scene where they first meet gives us an indication of what is to come as Alex attempts to get close to Russell, with some unexpected twists. The formost of these is a scene when Alex gives Russell a Black Widow pendant, a spider who mates and kills its lover. Russell's response plays with the fragile but determined Alex as she begins to doubt herself.
You don't want to miss this one. It's gorgeous to look at and has two riveting performances from Winger and Russell. You can't find a better one than this.
on January 23, 2005
What ever happened to Debra Winger's career? Was it all the gossip about how difficult she was to work with? Or was she simply a victim of the public's changing tastes? Coming to prominence in 1980's *Urban Cowboy*, followed by the smash hits *An Officer and a Gentleman* and *Terms of Endearment*. Even though she was nominated for Oscars several times, it was downhill from there, but Winger was in peak form for what has been regularly described as "a stylish thriller." Paired with Theresa Russell (a most intriguing actress with a score of bad films behind her - think *Whore*), Winger plays a federal agent on the tail of a chameleon-like young woman (Russell) who marries wealthy men and kills them. The plot is gripping and relatively fast-paced and Winger and Russell are excellent counterpoints to each other - Winger is earthy and likable and Russell is sexy and sinister. There is an interesting array of men playing Russell's victims, including Dennis Hopper in a cameo, with a deliciously calculating Diane Ladd playing his sister. The locales and interiors are suitably lush, though the inescapable hallmarks of the 80s regularly remind us that, though the film is almost 20 years old, it was done with enormous style - then and now.
on November 27, 2001
Okay, the story is preposterous and technologically dated, and some of the dialogue is melodramatic in a retro kind of way. That said, BLACK WIDOW still makes good viewing because it remains true to itself and the premises it has set up, and Debra Winger and Theresa Russell do a smashing job on their characters. It also has an interesting style, managing a noir atmosphere even while filming a considerable portion of the story in the bright sunshine of Hawaii and dressing the leads in the blues and red-oranges of '80s fashions.
Debra Winger plays a bright young unattached woman in a drab, stultifying life as a statistics accountant for the federal government. She does not openly indulge in self pity, but when she identifies a wisp of a possible crime in the statistics she compiles, she sells all her possessions and quits her job to pursue the case on her own. The case surrounds Theresa Russell's character who Winger believes marries older men and somehow precipitates their deaths to reap their inheritances, what is called a black widow. This is all established with swift efficiency, as is the guilt of Russell's character. The suspense lies in if and how Alex will corner her black widow, who is equally intelligent. The two make a sensational pairing, circling around each other, getting closer and closer.
Leonard Maltin's movie guide says the film doesn't deliver the big pay-off. That depends upon what kind of pay-off you are looking for. I happen to think it did deliver.
on July 11, 2003
I caught this movie on HBO in 1988-15 years later, I can still sit through it from beginning to end with out being the least bored. It is one of my favorite great movies that few people seem to know about.
Debra Winger is perfect as feisty Government agent, Alex, who notices a pattern and sets out to find the Black Widow-Theresa Russell, who reminds me a lot of Kathleen Turner in "Body Heat".
I would like to see more of her movies, as her portrayal of the woman Alex hunts down, is complex and compelling.
There are enough twists and turns to always keep your attention, and as other reviewers note, the scenery is spectacular.
The peripheral actors are well cast, and you find yourself caring about every one in the movie...and wondering what makes the Black Widow tick.
on April 8, 2001
"Black Widow" is one of my favorite films, much underrated, in my opinion. Teresa Russell plays a beautiful, chameleon-like and psychopathic woman who keeps recreating herself. Deborah Winger plays a seriously smart but unselfconsciously frumpy federal agent obsessed with murders she believes are being committed by Russell's character.
Both actresses do fine jobs, but Winger has the superior performance. The two women are at once fascinated with and frightened of one another. They have a semi-erotic mutual attraction, which I view as reflective of the strange relationship that good and evil have within each of us.
When "The Talented Mr. Riply" was released, the NY Times reviewed it in light of the American [USA, that is] fascination with reinventing oneself. The same theme applies to "Black Widow" - for each of the female leads.
The plot takes some complicated turns, but the viewer is rewarded by at least good (if not excellent) performances by all actors, and beautiful Hawaiian settings. The resolution moves a bit quickly, and it actually took me several times before I digested it all...but it's easy to get the basic story bottom line.
It's a great film to watch to get in touch with your own inner balancing act between good and evil!
on February 5, 2000
I will never know why Teresa Russell did not become one of the most visible actresses in Hollywood after this movie -- she is wickedly spectacular in this stylish bit of suspense. And Debra Winger plays the good guy with just enough ambivalence to give the movie a real tingling quality. It features a suspense/murder plot that essentially involves a serial killer, and is shot in some spectacular locations. As the women get closer, the heat turns up -- and the wrap-up is satisfying, neat and clever.
on May 27, 2015
If there is a word to describe "Black Widow", it's "subtle". And yet subtlety is what is lacking from most "suspense" thrillers made today which really means taking the "suspense" out of suspense films. However, this film relies heavily on almost pure suspense for its main thrust and makes for a very satisfying viewing experience, especially for those who saw it 20 years ago and have not seen it again since. The other plus for this movie is the two outstanding female leads who keep the interest constantly high, not through conventional action sequences, but through a dynamic in which the viewer is quite in the dark regarding what they will do next. It is nice to see a suspense drama that relies on the feminine sensibility, which you rarely see in Hollywood today. You have to go back to the film noir days of Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s to find movies centering around the "femme fatale", such as "The Postman Always Rings Twice" or "The Maltese Falcon".
The plot is relatively simple. A beautiful young woman, presumably in her early 30's, consciously courts older rich men in order to later dispatch them and inherit their money. Theresa Russell in the best role of her acting career plays the "Black Widow" with much understated deviousness coupled with seductive femininity. Somehow Russell makes it work. It is never over-the-top which would have ruined the whole dynamic. She finds that fine line where, in only certain moments, do we see her take on a darker cunning expression to hint of her ulterior motives. The rest of the time she plays the role of the perfect female spouse to whomever she is either courting or married.
The best feature of her portrayal is when she assumes a new identity for each of her potential victims to trap her men in a relationship that, as one of her victims put it, "seems too good to be true". She researches her intended victims with the veracity of a graduate student preparing a PhD thesis. Another element that is left up to audience speculation is why, other than for the money, she engages in these seduction-murder episodes. Her motivation is never fully explained which, for some reason, works best for the film, leaving the audience to ponder her inner psychology. I feel the only shortcoming of the film is that sometimes the seduction sequences seemed a little rushed where they maybe needed one more scene. Russell does such a good job of transforming her character into someone who would be attracted to her intended victims that I wanted to see just a little more of it. Dennis Hopper and Nicol Williamson each play victims of the "Black Widow" and I would have liked to see their segments extended just a bit longer.
Debra Winger plays a federal data clerk at the Justice Department who, during the course of her inputting myriads of computer information, presumably of a criminal nature, starts to notice an unnerving trend of rich men dying shortly after having married younger women. She begins to ponder whether these men were seduced by the same woman. She asks her boss to allow her to investigate further into the matter and overnight she becomes a field agent. The unstated rhetoric is that a male investigator might be unable to go inside the head of the "black widow" in order to stop her. At one point, Winger says "If you want to catch her, if you have to think like she does." But even Winger admits that no one knows why anyone does anything. She might be able to understand the black widow's schemes but not her motivations. Winger is a perfect compliment to Russell as she projects less sexual allure and more the work-a-day woman. Now the black widow is being pursued.
Overall, a great suspense movie of the "femme fatale" variety that is currently an under-explored area of film storytelling. Since about 1990, we have been in the age of the male dominated screen persona which makes a lot of Hollywood's offerings too cookie-cutter. Filmmakers could learn from "Black Widow". The female point of view is equally worth exploring as its male counterpart. For some reason, female centered stories are often characterized as not being universal. Which seems strange when you consider that 55% of the world's population is female.
on January 16, 2015
Fabulous movie--Debra Winger and Theresa Russell match wits in a deadly game of deception and truth.
Russell is a black widow who has everyone fooled, and Winger carefully lays a masterful trap to ensnare her.
A great small film which you will enjoy-well worth your time. Ms. Russell is a fine actress, and it's a shame she is no longer working. Ms. Winger did great work here, and she also is out of the film world. Both of them shine here.
on May 25, 2016
Female FBI agent thinks something is wrong when a rich man dies from a very rare never heard of disease out of the blue. Then another rich man. Then another. She figures out that they all have in common their aloof wives which is actually the same woman. She becomes obsessed with the "case" although no one thinks there is a case. She gets the go ahead from her boss to pursue her hunches on the weekends. She does. She gets close to the woman. The plot unfolds.
This movie was a cheap knock off of "Body Heat". It was very much TV movie of the week caliber. The problem here is that I clearly remember this movie being advertised back then as it was a hug deal, Debra Winger, seduction, sexy, death, etc. It really isn't. There is zero chemistry built around the femme fatale. There is zero sex/nudity--not that I am calling for it. But if Hollywood ever had a reason this movie and they way that they sold it would be it given the subject. Nothing there. And if the fact it was an all around flop was not bad enough it tried to interject feminism into it. There was the boss that hits on the Winger character. There is the coworker trying to woo the Winger character. There is "You are not taking me seriously because I'm a woman" silliness. There is the dialog that goes something like " . . . which is unbelievable . . . that she is a seductress or a killer because she is a woman"? It is factual knowledge that the underpinning of feminism is lesbianism. And they tried to interject that into this with winks and nods. And if you were going to make someone a femme fatale I would think you would cast a sexy female actress. Theresa Russell just isn't that. And the men are all trolls. While "Basic Instinct" was an equally stupid movie at least it got the sexy alluring part right.