1981. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan.
Film noir is wonderfully eclectic genre. While there are certain aspects each of these films share, directors have been bringing their unique perspectives to each offering over the decades since its creation. Neo-Noir films evolved the concept by placing murky detective stories into futuristic locales and sleepy Midwestern towns, showcasing the idea that the darkness of man can exist anywhere. Lawrence Kasdan’s scorching directorial debut, Body Heat initially appears as a well-crafted homage, intimately aware of its predecessors’ influence. However as its complex web of deceit begins to unravel, any sense of safety slowly erodes under a flood of sexual power and unrepentant violence to reveal an intelligent and diligently constructed narrative.
Inept lawyer Ned Racine falls for the wrong woman, leading him into a series of perilous decisions. Unseen consequences and chilling revelations then threaten to destroy not only his freedom, but his relationship with the woman for whom he has risked everything. Kasdan’s script borrows heavily from Noir staples. The dialogue brims with potboiler pastiche, but never crosses the line into parody. Some of the best exchanges are between William Hurt’s Ned and his compatriot’s: A surprisingly loyal Ted Danson and J.A. Preston’s dedicated detective. Hurt’s brilliant performance highlight’s his uncanny ability to strip away a character’s armor to reveal vulnerability and is instantly spellbinding. Ned is the perfect mark, competent enough to perform, but ultimately outdone by his libido. Mickey Rourke’s turn as an arsonist client contains some of the film’s best lines, a stark reminder of the Noir trope that there is not only honor, but brutal truth among thieves in the shadows.
Kathleen Turner’s steamy debut as the predatory seductress Matty Walker balances raw sexual mastery with wicked intent. Body Heat is a film that rests entirely on its villainess’s ability to captivate the audience, and Turner delivers. Ned is the surrogate, blindly following his heart (and other anatomy) into moral oblivion due to Turner’s sultry delivery and her uncompromising command of the material. Her chemistry with Hurt is intoxicating, to the point that the viewer is carefully reminded of a time when they made bad decisions for a bad thing that never felt so good and this is the film’s essence.
Set during a relentless heat wave in Florida, the color red is intrinsic to the happenings, blissfully captured by Richard Kline’s devious cinematography. This is a soiled, pessimistic world and an air of deception haunts every perfectly constructed frame. Maury Harris’s sound design, particularly during the infamous wind chimes scene perfectly captures the Noir vibe with ominous tones that preclude Ned and Matty’s first illicit coupling. What begins as an explosive convergence of corruption and passion tumbles head first across a moral Rubicon in which murder and love are strange bedfellows, tying Hurt and Turner together in a wicked dance of fractured dreams and shadowy manipulation.
Available now for digital streaming, Body Heat is a unique debut from a legendary writer. While it features the expected dialogue of a true master, it excels due to top notch production design and a brave performance by a woman in a time where women were not expected to be center of attention. Kasdan’s bold casting choice and respectful take on the Noir genre ensured that his debut effort would be remembered for decades to come. If you’ve never experienced this classic tale of sordid conspiracies and fevered entanglements, Body Heat is a sensational late night affair. Come for Turner’s heart racing performance, leave with the knowledge that Kasdan’s first time in the director’s chair was something exceptional.