Thursday, April 20, 2017

Palmetto (1998) Just Another Sucker Southern Noir

A Southern Noir, from the Sunshine State. Based on the James Hadley Chase novel "Just Another Sucker." Chase had a number of his novels turned into films, No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948), The Grissom Gang (1971), and others. The film was directed by Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum (1979)) and the screenplay was by E. Max Frye (Something Wild (1986)). The cinematography Tak Fujimoto (Fear (1996)). The bluesy soundtrack was by Klaus Doldinger (Das Boot (1981)).

The film stars Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers (1994), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), No Country for Old Men (2007)) as Harry Barber. Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas (1995)) as Mrs. Donnelly/Rhea Malroux, Gina Gershon (Bound (1996), This World, Then the Fireworks (1997), Killer Joe (2011)) as Nina, Rolf Hoppe (Mephisto (1981)) as Felix Malroux, Michael Rapaport (True Romance (1993), Kiss of Death (1995). Cop Land (1997)) as Donnely, Chloë Sevigny (American Psycho (2000), The Brown Bunny (2003), Zodiac (2007), ) as Odette, Tom Wright (Matewan (1987), Honeydripper (2007)) as John Renick, Marc Macaulay (China Moon (1994), Wild Things (1998), Lonely Hearts (2006), Killer Joe (2011)) as D.A. Miles Meadows, and Florida's Gulf Coast in all its seedy, steamy, aquamarine, green palm, and liquid sunshine splendor.

Sunset Coast, Florida. Harry Barber (Harrelson) = ex reporter. Harry Barber = convict. Harry doing time. Framed. Harry going buggy. Palmetto bug = flying cockroach. To jail bird Harry pugs = pets.

Harry Barber (Harrelson)

Palmetto Bug
Harry uncovered a town council/gamboling corruption scandal. Bribe offered. Bribe rejected. Follow the Moola. $2,000 mysteriously found in his bank account. Arrested and sentenced. Doing quattro in county.

Nina (Gershon)
Two years. Suddenly Sprung. Harry happy. Ex-cop testimony clears Harry. Harry and girlfriend Nina (Gershon) reunited. Back in the saddle again. Harry looks for work in Palmetto. Discouraged after days of dead ends he becomes a barfly is a seedy Palmetto dive, but doesn't drink, he's on the wagon. He'll order a shot and a soda but doesn't drink the shot.

Cue Rhea Malroux (Shue), a hot bodacious blond piece of cheesecake in a clinging dress that shows practically everything she's got. She breathtakingly slinks into the bar dripping desirability. Bona fide bang bait, she trolls hapless Harry. She very obviously "leaves" a cash filed handbag in a telephone booth. The down and out Harry "finds" it and, with his newly acquired jailbird smarts, pockets the cash. Rhea "runs into" Harry back in the bar and thanks him for finding her bag, offering to buy him a drink.

Rhea Malroux (Shue)

Harry bites and she offers him a job. She wants him to help her and step-daughter Odette (Sevigny) stage a phony kidnapping. They want to scam her husband (Hoppe) out of $500,000 and Harry will get 10%.  Rhea sweetens the pot by fucking Harry stupid. Harry hooked.

Rhea Malroux: I'm just a girl with a little ambition.

Harry wants to meet Odette to make sure everything is square. Once Odette shows up Harry plans his end of the ruse. Odette is to make an appointment to meet her friend at a dance pier, she'll show up and then change clothes, don a wig and split with Harry who'll drop her off at the airport where she'll catch a red eye to Miami and hole up in a Holiday Inn. After Odette's missing for a few days her father will receive the ransom note that Harry gave to Rhea. Harry will then make the call and ask for the half million and give details for the drop. Odette will fly back, Harry will pick her up and deposit her at a ocean side cabin he rented, and then go and get the money.

Odette (Sevigny)

It all goes Noirsville when Harry gets back with the loot and finds Odette dead.


John Renick (Wright) lt. Harry rt.


Every-time Elisabeth Shue is on screen the film sizzles. She in the running for admittance into the Pantheon of Great Femme Fatales. She turns it on like a bitch in heat. She gets a certain wild eyed, out of control look when she's telegraphing obvious sexual come and get it signals all the while the brain in your upper head is strobe flashing danger ahead warning lights. But baby you don't care.

Gina Gershon (Nina) the other woman in Harry's life is the down to earth, metal artist, the loyal girl he left behind. Gershon's part is pretty tame comparatively in this film, with not much to work with. If you want to see her in a similar performance to Shue's catch her as the incest-full sister in This World Then The Fireworks, or catch her trailer trash stepmother in the recent Killer Joe.

Woody Harrelson as the chip on his shoulder ex reporter, plays Barber with "some" degree of street smarts, he's bitter, resentful, and wants to get back the two years he's lost even if he has to play the angles to do so. He's stewing inside, scowling, grousing and edgy. The femmes play him like a fiddle.

Odette comes off like a rode hard and put away wet piece of jailbait. Chloë Sevigny enhances her slutty performance with a don't give a fuck attitude, bedroom eyes, and revealing clothes.

Of the rest of the cast only Michael Rapaport makes some sort of impression. He was born to play sleazy, when I see him I think of Classic Film Noir actor Zachary Scott. He's got a natural aura of shifty un-trustworthiness, that taints all his characters, but his part is somewhat undeveloped and he's coasting on fumes.

Screencaps are from the Warner Brothers DVD 7/10

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