VOLKER SCHLONDORFF’S PALMETTO — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Palmetto is a twisty, lethal little neo-noir from 1998 that took familiar ingredients and threw them into a blender of Florida sunshine and juicy star-turns from a game cast who clearly had fun with the hot-blooded, morally treacherous material. Directed by the great filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum), the film failed to ignite a fire at the box office and received mixed to negative reviews, while serving as the director’s last American feature film. And while it’s hardly a brilliant film ,there’s so much fun stuff on display to remind you that Hollywood rarely makes them like this anymore. Taking a page from genre staples like The Big Sleep and Key Largo, the screenplay concocted by E. Max Frye, which was based on the novel by James Hadley Chase, concerns a falsely imprisoned journalist named Harry Barber (Woody Harrelson in one of his most atypical performances) who, upon release from the joint, crosses paths with the sexy but probably dangerous Rhea Malroux (the absolutely fantastic Elisabeth Shue in drop-dead sexy mode), a classic femme fatale who you just know is going to take poor Harry for a ride he’ll never forget. Rhea convinces Harry to help her in an extortion plot against her rich husband, but nothing goes according to plan, with multiple plot strands converging and everyone double and triple crossing each other without a moment’s notice. I still haven’t looked at a 55 gallon drum the same way since this film. Cinematographer Thomas Kloss took advantage of his lush surroundings, bathing the film in warm colors and sun-dappled imagery so that the audience felt the sticky humidity all throughout the constantly shifting narrative. A game supporting cast including sultry Gina Gershon, Michael Rapaport, Chloe Sevigny, Rolf Hoppe, Tom Wright, and the always awesome Marc Macaulay all contributed to the sweaty thrills. This overlooked item would make a nice double feature with the underrated Bob Rafelson crime-noir Blood & Wine with Jack Nicholson.

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