John Dahl


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7.0 Red Rock West (1993)
7.0 The Last Seduction (1994)
6.8 Unforgettable (1996)
6.6 Rounders (1998)
6.5 Joy Ride (2001)
5.0 The Great Raid (2005)
7.0 You Kill Me (2007)
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John Dahl (USA, 1956) debuted with Kill Me Again (1989).

Red Rock West (1993) e` un film noir alla David Lynch che fa leva sull'atmosfera ma anche su una trama rocambolesca. Gran parte dell'azione si svolge di notte.

Cittadina di provincia. Michael e` un eterno loser, ex marine disoccupato ma onesto che ha viaggiato dal Texas al Wyoming per un lavoro. Il lavoro gli viene negato perche' lui ammette di avere una gamba malata, ma il proprietario di un bar, Wayne, lo scambia per l'hitman Lyle di Chicago e gli offre una somma per uccidere la bella moglie Suzanne in un trailer fuori paese. Michael va a trovarla e le spiega la situazione, e Suzanne raddoppia l'offerta perche' lui uccida Wayne. Michael prende i soldi, scrive una nota allo sceriffo e lascia la citta`. Sta guidando di notte nella pioggia quando investe un uomo che attraversa la strada di corsa: e` proprio l'uomo di Suzanne. Dopo un attimo di esitazione, lo carica in auto e lo porta in ospedale. Li` viene interrogato dalla polizia, perche' la vittima ha anche due pallottole in corpo. Lo lasciano andare, ma Wayne lo aspetta, preoccupato che lui parli alla polizia. Lo porta fuori citta` per eliminarlo, ma Michael riesce a fuggire. Gli da` un passaggio un gentiluomo che si rivela essere proprio l'hitman Lyle, e che si ferma proprio al bar di Wayne. Michael fugge saltando su un autocarro. Lyle tenta di nuovo di lasciare il paese, ma prima decide di fermarsi ad avvertire la donna che il vero killer sta per arrivare e che il suo uomo e` all'ospedale. Lyle arriva in quel momento e Michael lo stordisce. Michael e Suzanne fuggono in auto e Suzanne lo convince a lasciare il paese per sempre. La polizia intanto ha trovato i soldi nell'auto di Michael.
I due fuggitivi si fermano in un motel e Suzanne seduce il freddo Michael. Il giorno dopo lo convince a tornare in paese per riprendersi i soldi che Wayne custodisce in cassaforte. Suzanne fa aprire la cassaforte a Michael, ma in quel momento arriva Wayne. Li salva la polizia, che e` venuta ad arrestare Wayne dopo che le indagini sul misterioso incidente hanno rivelato la sua vera identita` di criminale e dopo che lo sceriffo ha ricevuto il messaggio anonimo di Michael. Michael ha sentito la polizia parlare di un bottino di milioni di dollari e non crede piu` alla versione di Suzanne. Lyle fa irruzione e blocca entrambi. Lyle spiega a Michael che Wayne e Suzanne sono entrambi ricercati dalla polizia. Suzanne sostiene che soltanto Wayne sa dove sia il bottino e Lyle non esita a uccidere un poliziotto e liberarlo dal carcere. Michael e` costretto a guidare l'auto durante la fuga. Wayne li porta in un cimitero e poi tenta di giocarlo: Lyle lo accoltella e Michael ne approfitta per saltargli addosso. Suzanne a sua volta ne approfitta per liberarsi e impossessarsi della pistola di Wayne. Suzanne uccide Lyle e salva la vita a Michael, proprio mentre sta arrivando la polizia. Suzanne, che ha preso il sacco di soldi, e Michael saltano sul treno. Adesso che sono in salvo, Suzanne gli punta la rivoltella, ma non ci sono piu` pallottole. Michael, disgustato da questa guerra per i soldi, prende il sacco e lo butta dal treno, invano supplicato da Suzanne che gli offre la meta`. E poi butta giu` anche lei.

The Last Seduction (1994) is a noir thriller centered around a "fatal" woman who is amazingly calm and indifferent as she shamelessly exploits people.

Bridget is a cold, selfish, bitchy executive. She has worked out a plan with her husband pharmacist Clay to get rich selling cocaine and use the money to retire. The plan succeeds, but she takes the money and leaves Clay empty-handed. She takes a cab to a car parked under a bridge, and drives away. She gets stuck in a small town inhabited by old-fashioned people. In a bar, she meets Mike, a restless and unhappy young man who falls madly in love with her, despite the fact that she is arrogant, unpolite and doesn't know how to use the words "please" and "thank you". She is indifferent to him, but decides she can use a night of sex, so she spends a night with him. But she is so disgusted by the whole town and its people that in the morning she leaves without even saying "bye". Her attorney advises her to stay put till the divorce is finalized, so she has to look for an apartment and a job in that town, and assume a new name. She then uses Mike's sexual services again outside the bar, but, again, only for her own pleasure ("you're my designated fuck"). She calls Clay to buy her divorce, but realizes that Clay is tracking the phone call. Clay can't pinpoint the phone number but at least figures out the area code. Enough to send his associate on her trail. In the meantime, Mike complais that Bridget is so secretive and so indifferent, not a real girlfriend. She begins to exploit his desire for a more intimate relationship: her goal is to have him kill Clay. She is right to be worried: Clay's associate finds her. She gets into her car at night and forces her to drive to her place, but, along the way, she manages to kill him by hitting a pole at high speed after having him unfasten his seat belt to pull down his pants. She ends up at the hospital, and has a perfectly good story for the police (he tried to rape her). But Clay does not give up: he sends another man, a professional, to control her every movement. She manipulates Mike to the point that he is slowly drawn into believing that killing someone is not such a terrible thing to do. She pretends that she killed a bastard and even got money out of it, and now he has to prove to be her equal. And, needless to say, the bastard to kill is her husband. He finally accepts the deal and they drive back to New York together. Except that Mike doesn't have the heart to kill Clay, and eventually Clay gets a chance to tell his the truth: that he is Bridget's wife, that Bridget stole money, that Bridget will probably get rid of him, Mike, too, probably by fingering him for the murder. They now team up against her, but she coldly kills Clay under Mike's eyes. Then she provokes him to rape her, and, while he is taking her from behind, she dials 911 and lets the police listen to him raping her while she is screaming and accusing him of having killed her husband. She has done it: Clay is dead, Mike is arrested for the murder of Clay, and she is free.
(Alas, the film ends in the most inept way: with Mike in jail suddenly remembering something that could prove his innocence, thus opening the door for The Last Seduction 2).

Unforgettable (1996) is an effective thriller with a lot of twists in the plot but it is based on a scientific premise that is wildly implausible. Half of the film feels like a modern version of the amateurish sci-fi thrillers of the silent era. The other half is the portrait of a man haunted by guilt for having destroyed his own happiness, whose obsession for finding the killer of his wife leads him to simply realize that his marriage was even more doomed than he knew and therefore to feel even more guilty. The ending is ambiguous and luckily avoids the usual Hollywood-ian happy ending. One expects the film to end with the redeemed protagonist to marry the pretty scientist, but instead it feels more like there is no way out for him.

The film opens at a drugstore, the scene of a mass shooting where several people, including a young woman, have been killed. The police chief assumes that it was a botched robbery, but the coroner, David, points out that one of the victims still has a roll of banknotes sticking out of his pocket. David works with a humane detective called Bresler, with a crude agent, Gleick, and with his fellow doctor Avery. David is struck by a box of matches that has been rolled in an akward manner: it reminds him of a similar box of matches found in his own house after someone murdered his wife. Later he spends some time with his two children and we see that they don't live with him: they live with his wife's sister, who is hostile to him. He later attends the boring lecture of a scientist, Martha, and gets very interested in her experiment: she managed to transfer the memories of a rat to another rat. Later someone warns Martha that David was accused of killing his wife while drunk but got acquitted on a technicality. David visits Martha's lab and she explains that all it takes is a sample of cerebral spinal fluid of the animal whose memories one wants to clone and a stimulus to trigger the right memories. David promptly asks to test her potion on himself. She refuses: it will take years to prove that the potion is safe. David breaks into her lab during the night and steals the potion and steals his wife's fluid that is still kept in Avery's lab as a result of the autopsy. He then drives to the house where the murder took place (the needed stimulus) and injects the fluid into his arm and drinks the potion. Sure enough, he sees his wife's last memories: she never saw the face of the man who attacked her. He physically feels that he is being strangled. Clearly, David is innocent of killing his wife and is desperately trying to find out who did it. When he wakes up, he still doesn't know who killed his wife. He has an idea: perform the same experiment on one of the victims of the botched robbery. He thinks it's the same killer. He bribes a cop to let him steal the fluid of the young woman killed at the drugstore. He drives to the drugstore, drinks the potion and injects himself the fluid. Sure enough, he sees the murder from the viewpoint of the young woman and sees the face of the killer. Not only that: it turns out he has become an artist at drawing (the young woman was an art student) and can draw a very accurate sketch of the killer. Martha comes angry to complain about him stealing the fluid. She is terrified that he might die of a heart attack and decides to spend the next 48 hours with him to make sure he won't die on her. Avery identifies the man in David's sketch. David tracks this punk down, Eddie. Eddie realizes he's been followed and first tries to shoot David, killing someone else, then runs away. David chases him despite increasing pain in his heart, as Martha predicted. Finally David corners Eddie into a church. Eddie takes a child hostage and threatens to slit his throat while David points a gun at him. A lot of cops arrive (it's not clear who called them) and Bresler is the one who manages to kill Eddie. Gleick, the cop who always suspected David of his wife's murder, is mad at him for causing this dangerous situation. The police chief, in fact, fires David. Undeterred, David decides to repeat the experiment on the dead Eddie: he steals Eddie's fluid from the autopsy room and then returns to the house where his wife was murdered. He now sees that Eddie tried to rape the woman but didn't kill her because someone arrived. Martha is sleeping next door. She wakes up hearing the noise and David, still imagining to be Eddie, almost rapes her. He even has nightmares related to Eddie's youth before he fully recovers. The bottom line is that Eddie is not the one who killed his wife. Now finally David reveals to Martha that he was an alcoholic and an abusive husband, and his wife was about to leave him. He feels guilty that he was drunk that night while his wife was being murdered nearby. He also learned only at the trial that his wife was pregnant of a third child. The next morning Martha, on a hunch, performs a DNA test and discovers that David's wife was pregnant of someone else's child: she was already cheating on David. She tells David, who is devastated. David confronts his wife's sister who doesn't want to talk to him but eventually she admits that his wife was having an extramarital affair and that the man with a detective. David tells Gleick and Bresler hoping that they know who the man was. Neither Gleick (who still suspects David) nor Bresler believe his story, that is based on David miraculously knowing what was in Eddie's mind. David's heart is collapsing. Martha takes him to the hospital. David is unconscious and we see in a flashback how he was arrested for his wife's murder and how Gleick was firmly convinced that David killed his wife. When David wakes up at the hospital, his children are there: his wife's sister finally believes in his innocence, given how determined he is to find the real killer. During the night a mysterious explosion blows up Martha's laboratory with all the remaining potion. Gleick, the detective who never believed in his innocence, visits David at the hospital and admits that now he has doubts: he now suspects a former detective, Bodner, who tried to kill himself the day David's wife was murdered and now lies in a coma. David and Martha sneak into the hospital room where the unconscious Bodner is and steal his fluid so that David can see Bodner's memories. Martha is strongly opposed that David injects himself because his heart would almost certainly die and offers to do it herself. Someone is watching them: Bresler. They drive to the house where his wife was murdered. David pretends to tie down Martha to protect her from killing herself but instead it's a trick to inject himself. David sees that Bodner was indeed his wife's lover. But now David also sees that Bodner was involved in a scheme run by Bresler, who is revealed to be a corrupt and amoral cop. David sees that Eddie worked for Bresler and Bodner witnessed how Bresler, with Eddie's help, ambushed four men that they then coldly killed. David's wife was the lawyer investigating the corruption case and Bodner was not only her lover but also her star witness. As David is lying on the floor, re-living Bodner's memories of Bresler, Bresler walks in and finds Martha tied to a chair. Bresler calmly reveals that he is the one who blew up her lab because he sensed how David learned so much about the dead Eddie. Meanwhile, David, powerless and almost dead on the floor, sees that Bresler killed Bodner after finishing David's wife (which Eddie had been paid to kill). Bresler lights a fire: Martha is tied to a chair and David lies on the floor, with no energies to get up, close to a second heart attack. The two are condemned to die in the fire. Miracles do happen: David finds a supernatural energy to grab Bresler while he's walking out and beat him unconscious. David then rescues Martha and they walk out safe. But David knows that Martha was recording the whole episode and wants the recording as proof of who killed his wife. He risks his life to pick up the tape recorder and then also to drag the unconscious Bresler out. The burning house crashes on David. Bresler is arrested. David lies in a coma at the hospital, with burns and a weak heart, with Martha on his side. The film ends with a flashback of David, his wife and his children when they were a happy family, a family that David destroyed with his alcoholism.

Rounders (1998)

Joy Ride (2001)

The Great Raid (2005)

You Kill Me (2007)

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