Should I Watch..? 'Killing Me Softly'

Updated on August 6, 2018
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin is a full-time carer and former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films for over ten years.

Poster for the film
Poster for the film | Source

What's the big deal?

Killing Me Softly is an erotic thriller film released in 2002 and is based on the novel of the same name by Nicci French. Starring Heather Graham and Joseph Fiennes, the film is the only English-language movie by Chinese director Chen Kaige - the Palme d'Or winning director of Farewell My Concubine. The film follows a young woman in London who gives up her ordinary life to embark on a passionate affair with an enigmatic mountaineer who may not be all that he seems. Initially planed for a wide theatrical release in the US, the film was quickly pulled from schedules after the film was ravaged by critics and instead headed for a direct-to-DVD release. The film struggled to earn more than $6.6 million worldwide, far below its estimated $25 million budget. The film's critical and commercial disappointment meant that Kaige returned to directing films in his native China while both Graham and Fiennes quickly moved on to other projects.

Unforgivable

1 star for Killing Me Softly

What's it about?

Young American woman Alice is working in an office in London while happily living with her English boyfriend Jake. After a chance encounter in the street, Alice finds herself besotted with a strange man - so much so that she immediately jumps into a taxi to his place and they quickly have passionate sex. The next day, she learns who he is - Adam Tallis, a mountaineer who survived a tragic accident which killed several people including his lover although he managed to save the lives of others. Captivated by Adam, Alice leaves Jake and begins a relationship with Adam instead.

After Adam leaps to Alice's aid during an attempted mugging (during which Adam beats the mugger to within an inch of his life), Alice quickly agrees to marry Adam despite her friend's reservations about how quickly things are moving. After marrying Adam and moving in with him, Alice begins receiving a mysterious string of letters and menacing phone calls including a letter from a journalist regarding a rape allegation against Adam. Realising that she knows nothing about her new husband, Alice starts to follow the paper trail and comes to believe that she is in grave danger.

Trailer

Main Cast

Actor
Role
Heather Graham
Alice
Joseph Fiennes
Adam Tallis
Natasha McElhone
Deborah
Ulrich Thomson
Klaus
Ian Hart
Senior Police Officer
Jason Hughes
Jake

Technical Info

Director
Chen Kaige
Screenplay
Kara Lindstrom*
Running Time
100 minutes
Release Date (UK)
21st June, 2002
Genre
Drama, Erotic, Mystery, Thriller
*based on the novel by Nicci French
Fiennes veers wildly from kinky mountaineer to blatant psychopath - you cannot deny the film's set-up is unusual.
Fiennes veers wildly from kinky mountaineer to blatant psychopath - you cannot deny the film's set-up is unusual. | Source

What's to like?

You know as well as I do that any film that bills itself as an erotic thriller is going to fulfil at least two of three criteria. 1) It will lean more heavily on the erotic half of the equation than the thriller half. 2) It will feature a popular actress getting undressed more in the first half of the film than she does in the second half, tempting viewers to stick with it through the promise of more nudity. 3) It will throw in one scene involving something approaching S&M. As far as Killing Me Softly goes, it's a clean sweep.

The film is a turgid wade through melodramatic cliché and plot-twisting madness that makes little sense. It's not helped by the fact that Alice is quite clearly the stupidest woman ever to appear in such a film, which at least does have the distinction of being the first film I've ever seen that reverses the role of femme fatale - a homme fatale, if you like. But the film has very little to recommend unless Ms Graham's body is all you need in a movie (or Mr Fiennes, for that matter). Other than the switch of gender roles, the film hasn't a single original idea to be found anywhere. Since when was mountaineering sexy anyway?

Fun Facts

  • The screenwriter Nicci French is actually the pen-name of husband and wife writing team Sean French and Nicci Gerrard, both of whom attended Oxford University but never met there. They've been married since 1990 and live in Suffolk in East Anglia.
  • In the US, the film was released on Blu-ray in 2013 as part of a double-feature with The Hot Spot - a 1990 neo-noir thriller directed by Dennis Hopper - which received a far better reception from critics than Killing Me Softly ever did.
  • In the background of a photo, you can see a statue which often features on the covers of books by Nicci French published in Dutch. Why this is relevant remains uncertain.

What's not to like?

Well, let's start with Alice - a self-centred buffoon who leave her life behind and gets intimately involved with a guy whose name she doesn't even know. Does this sound like a character we can empathise with or feel for when the screw gets turned? Adam is your classic baddie in these sort of films, a ruggedly handsome chap who could quite possibly have a collection of dead bodies under his patio. Throw in Deborah, Adam's far-too-nice sister and the unfortunate sap Jake (who should have popped back in the end in a murderous rage) and the film is littered with characters that defy any sense of logic or reality.

The film quickly falls from its clothes-shedding opening into a depressingly familiar tale of is-he-a-psycho with plot twists coming out of nowhere and very little making sense. The ending, which is so deliciously demented that I won't spoil it for you, will have rolling in laughter assuming you haven't reached that point already. The skill and beauty behind Farewell My Concubine is replaced with an uninspired direction that makes the film feel even more like a soap opera. Even fans of the book, who you think would be excited by a cinematic adaptation, will be put out by the numerous changes the film makes.

Graham and Fiennes generate less chemistry than a puddle of amino acids. Considered their relationship is formed on little more than animal lust, it's tragically flaccid.
Graham and Fiennes generate less chemistry than a puddle of amino acids. Considered their relationship is formed on little more than animal lust, it's tragically flaccid. | Source

Should I watch it?

Chances are, you've probably already seen the best bits if you've been online long enough. The film is a startling dud, making idiots out of its cast and bamboozling viewers with its nonsensical narrative. Graham and Fiennes deserve better than this but the person I feel most sorry for is Kaige, no doubt hoping that this film would open doors for him internationally. It wasn't to be, meaning that his films and skills as a director remain one of Chinese cinema's best-kept secrets. As for this tripe, it's best if we move on.

Great For: Internet perverts, pause buttons, mountaineers

Not So Great For: couples, fans of the book, improving the reputation of erotic thrillers

What else should I watch?

I suppose most people will head straight to the equally dumb Fifty Shades Of Grey which features a popular actress (Dakota Johnson in this case) getting undressed and involved in S&M-style sex games. Despite the impressive box office receipts, the film bombed amongst critics and the subsequent sequels did little to get them on side either. But if that doesn't float your boat then there are a whole host of underwhelming alternatives - Madonna gets 'em out in Body Of Evidence, you've the increasingly old-school 9½ Weeks while Meg Ryan desperately fights against type in In The Cut.

Fortunately, there are a small number of films that use eroticism to help tell a story instead of generating headlines, controversy or Internet downloads. The Reader is a wonderfully written and performed film featuring Kate Winslet as a former prison guard having a torrid relationship with a young man in post-war Germany. Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a French coming-of-age tale that also won the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, though its raw depiction of sexuality made it stand out from the crowd. Finally, there's Shame with Michael Fassbender playing a sex addict forced to put up with his younger sister living with him for a while.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Benjamin Cox

    Soap Box

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://reelrundown.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)