Body of Evidence

(Uli Edel, USA, 1993)


Some films are shot dead in the water even before they have reached an audience – victims of a massive amount of bad pre-publicity. It is especially sad that, once a film has been thus branded, almost nothing will shake off the so-bad-it’s-hilarious tag. Ishtar (1987) and Hudson Hawk (1991) are only two of the fine movies that have suffered because of this irrational, ritual slaughter.

Now it’s time to stand up for the most underrated title of 1993, Body of Evidence. Forget everything you’ve heard about Madonna’s supposedly appalling performance, the apparently creaky plot devices borrowed from other movies, the seemingly ludicrous sex scenes, etc, etc.

This is a captivating genre piece, quite artfully directed by Uli Edel – whose career, because of this movie’s reception, went from the high cult-promise of Christiane F (1981) and Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) to a virtual exile in telemovie and kids-movie land. It certainly wins no awards for profundity or originality but, then again, it doesn’t aspire to.

Under Edel’s hand, this is one of the few successful film noirs of the early ’90s. Madonna plays a mysterious woman accused of murdering her rich, old boyfriend through sexual excess. Willem Dafoe (always a charismatic performer) is her lawyer and, as expected, he is soon lured into a reckless, lightly sadomasochistic relation with her. Joe Mantegna, from the straight and narrow side of the law, slugs it out with Dafoe in court.

Like Damage (1992), this is a film that must be appreciated for its minute attention to cinematic craft. Edel carefully builds up a tone and an atmosphere which he sustains even through the final scramble of plot revelations. Madonna may not be the greatest actor of the silver screen, but Edel has coaxed from her a controlled, capable performance.

© Adrian Martin September 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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