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Gus Van Sant
Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix, Matt Dillon
Buck Henry
A beautiful but naïve aspiring television personality films a documentary on teenagers with a darker ulterior motive.
Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 3/26/2024

• Audio Commentary with Director Gus Van Sant, Director of Photography Eric Alan Edwards and Editor Curtiss Clayton
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailer
• Booklet


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To Die For: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 14, 2024)

In the US, most moviegoers first heard of Nicole Kidman via her role in 1990’s Days of Thunder. That movie didn’t rack up the expected box office bucks, but it did introduce Kidman to future husband Tom Cruise, and her connection to the superstar functioned as the way most folks saw her for a few years.

Of course, Kidman and Cruise divorced in 2001, but Kidman began to strongly fashion a career completely independent from Cruise well before their split. One important step in this evolution came from 1995’s To Die For.

Set in small time New Hampshire, Suzanne Stone (Kidman) aspires to fame as a TV newscaster. She marries Larry Maretto (Matt Dillon), a relationship that seems less based on love and more on her desire to get him to care for her while she pursues her career goals.

Along the way, Suzanne decides to shoot a documentary about local kids, and she gets to know Jimmy Emmett (Joaquin Phoenix), one of these teens. When Larry begins to pressure Suzanne to quit her TV gig, she seduces Jimmy to use him to kill her husband.

Don’t view Larry’s death as a spoiler. Die tells us at the start that he wound up deceased and Suzanne stood implicated, from which point it tells the tale in flashback punctuated by “modern day” comments from the characters as part of a faux documentary.

If nothing else, Die offers a hotbed of talent that would later achieve great success. Kidman has earned five Oscar nominations and one win and Phoenix also has four Academy Award nods and one victory.

Director Gus Van Sant later managed two Oscar nominations as well, and Casey Affleck earned two nods and one win. Screenwriter Buck Henry had two Oscar noms to his name as well as one for uncredited actor George Segal, but unlike the others, these preceded Die.

Even without Oscar love attached, Die musters a lot of prominent folks. The supporting cast also includes Illeana Douglas, Wayne Knight, Kurtwood Smith, Dan Hedaya, Michael Rispoli and Holland Taylor.

Does Die make good use of all these notables? Pretty much, for while it tells a somewhat superficial tale of the obsession with fame, it proves brisk and entertaining.

Often a less than subtle filmmaker, Van Sant leans toward the hamfisted side of the street much of the time. Part modern noir and part satire, Die doesn’t exactly bring a lot of true insight to the table.

That said, the script from Buck Henry offers more than enough wit to compensate. The film walks a fine line between noir-style thriller and black comedy, one that it navigates well.

Kidman’s sizzling performance becomes a key to the movie’s success. On the surface, she should flop, as she makes Suzanne a much cartoonier character than the others.

Everyone else in the movie plays it straight. Even as the dim-witted stoner Jimmy, Phoenix keeps things grounded, and the rest of the actors largely resist the urge to “go broad”.

In contrast, Kidman turns Suzanne into a one-dimensional parody of an ambitious succeed-at-all-costs woman. This should harpoon the movie, but instead, Kidman’s choices give it vitality.

Kidman turns Suzanne into a true force of nature. As ludicrous as Kidman’s version of the character should seem, the actor brings such delicious bite and energy to the role that I never mind how over the top she becomes.

In addition, the movie’s look at how some pursue fame as a means unto itself feels even more accurate than ever nearly 30 years later. Indeed, Suzanne’s journey almost feels quaint given how far so many push their eagerness for notoriety in this Internet age.

This allows the film to age surprisingly well, but it wouldn’t hold up as nicely without a magnetic star turn from Kidman. While supported by a fine cast, she makes this flick work.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

To Die For appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Expect a positive presentation here.

Sharpness seemed strong for the most part. Because the film used video and 16mm in addition to 35mm, some soft spots emerged, but for the most part, the image looked tight and precise.

No jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and no edge haloes materialized. In terms of print flaws, I saw couple no issues, and the movie boasted light but consistent grain.

The film largely opted for natural hues, and the disc brought these about well. While nothing dazzled, the colors felt full and well-rendered.

Blacks were deep and tight, while low-light shots demonstrated nice definition and density. This wound us as an appealing image.

As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of To Die For, it didn’t shoot for the stars. Most of the audio focused on the front, and it usually stayed with general environmental material.

The track boasted pretty good movement in the front, and the surrounds added some general support. Music involved the back channels the most, but this never turned into an especially memorable soundscape.

Audio quality seemed fine. Speech came across as clean and distinctive.

Music duplicated the score well. Effects contributed some dimensionality, at least during the smattering of louder scenes.

Those elements were consistently accurate and concise. Ultimately, enough worked well to make this a “B“.

A few extras appear, and we get an audio commentary from director Gus Van Sant, director of photography Eric Alan Edwards and editor Curtiss Clayton. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific look at the source novel and its adaptation, characters/story, cast and performances, locations, photography and editing, hair and costumes, music and related domains.

Expect a pretty solid discussion of the film here, one that became more frank than expected. Usually directors don’t name actors who didn’t get cast, but Van Sant mentions a few folks who were up for the gig and unselected.

Van Sant also flubs the timeline pretty regularly, such as when he claims Matt Damon – considered for the role Joaquin Phoenix took – had already appeared in 1996’s Courage Under Fire before Die. In reality, Die was already in theaters before the Courage shoot even began.

When commentary participants make factual mistakes, I start to question the accuracy of their other statements, but given that Van Sant simply misremembers movies that didn’t involve him, I won’t worry too much about these goofs. Overall, this turns into an informative track.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find approximately 41 deleted scenes. These fill a whopping 35 minutes, 28 seconds.

I said “approximately” because this compilation included multiple riffs on the same scenes at times and it didn’t always seem clear when one ended and another began. All shown 1.37:1, the footage sometimes lacks audio and feels pretty basic.

In any case, the scenes tend to be fairly short. The biggest focus comes from a bunch of clips that involve Suzanne and Jimmy at a fair.

These take up a decent chunk of time and offer a bit more exposition in that domain. We also get some epilogues for the detectives who investigate Larry’s murder as well as the Stone and Maretto families.

Does any of this add up to much? Not really, for while some interesting snippets arrive, the majority feel pretty superfluous.

The extensions of Suzanne and Jimmy at the fair offer the most important moments, but even those don’t seem like they would’ve become especially useful in the overall narrative. I enjoyed my look at the cut sequences but don’t think any needed to make the final film,

The set completes with a booklet. It mixes credits, art and an essay from critic Jessica Kiang to finish the package on a positive note.

Though occasionally a bit on the nose, To Die For mostly provides a brisk and taut look at the insidious pursuit of fame. Abetted by a stellar lead performance from Nicole Kidman, the movie brings a lot of zing. The Blu-ray comes with solid picture and audio plus a few bonus materials. The film holds up well after almost 30 years.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 2
0 3:
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