Hilary Swank as Detective Valerie Quinlan
Michael Ealy as Derrick Tyler
Mike Colter as Rafe Grimes
Geoffrey Owens as Bill Cranepool
Damaris Lewis as Tracie Tyler
Danny Pino as Carter Haywood
David Hoflin as Officer Lowe
Sam Daly as Officer Stallman
Tyrin Turner as Tyrin Abenathy
Directed by Deon Taylor; Written by David Loughery
The adultery-fueled erotic stalker thriller subgenre is frequently one of the least interesting and most predictable of the bunch, generally appearing more cartoonish in their portrayals of unhinged characters and forcing audiences to side with the married/partnered person in the equation. Though the film may home some issues in its dialogue and pacing, Deon Taylor and David Loughery’s latest entry into the subgenre, Fatale, actually proves to be a happy surprise with some departures from these well-worn tropes to deliver a relatively enticing tale.
After a wild one-night stand, Derrick (Michael Ealy), a successful sports agent, watches his perfect life slowly disappear when he discovers that the sexy and mysterious woman he risked everything for, is a determined police detective (Hilary Swank) who entangles him in her latest investigation. As he tries desperately to put the pieces together, he falls deeper into her trap, risking his family, his career, and even his life.
The opening act of the film is admittedly pretty rough, with the setup for Derrick’s failing marriage feeling far too familiar and underwhelming, especially given his career position as a Black man in power, which feels far too rare still in stories. Once the inevitable night arrives and audiences are introduced to Hilary Swank’s Valerie, the film takes a real dour turn for a short while, with no real initial chemistry being shared between the two as Ealy plays the awkward-might-cheat-on-my-wife angle while Swank’s dialogue drifts hard into bad porno-level territory.
But once this passes and Derrick returns home looking to repair things with his wife and the break-in leads to Valerie returning into his life, things start taking a turn for the better. The moment Valerie walks into Derrick’s living room is honestly nothing short of brilliant, not on a story-level per se, but more in the direction and performances from Swank and Ealy. Often times in these scenes actors and characters devolve rapidly into a stuttering mess with bugged-out eyes, but Ealy delivers a slower look of realization as Swank enters the room that really tightens the film’s grip on its audience and helps establish the palpable tension that remains for nearly the remainder of the film.
The evolution of Swank’s Valerie is also a far more unique and grounded path that keeps the mystery going and leaving audiences wondering on how exactly to judge her. As previously mentioned, so many films in the genre portray the non-partnered half of the affair to be a clingy and deranged individual willing to throw their life away to be with the other person, but with Valerie, Loughery has written a very well-rounded and compelling character. She has her own goals and troubled backstory audiences can sympathize with, but Swank bolsters the character further with a cold ambiguity that helps encapsulate audiences’ concerns as to whether they can actually trust her or ignore her troubles.
The primary problems in the film really lie in its pacing and some of its dialogue, with more than a handful of conversations proving too vulgar and cringe-worthy that takes the atmosphere out of a number of scenes. The story nearly speeds through its opening half as though it intends on only running a 90-minute race, only to shift gears to a more deliberate pace and it’s not an entirely poor decision on its part, but it does create a disjointed feeling that also will drive the question in some audiences’ minds of how much further can this story go?
Overall, Fatale may not be a masterpiece or break entirely new ground, but thanks to more original character development and storytelling, stylish direction from Taylor and solid performances from Swank and Ealy, it proves to be one of the best thrillers of its kind in years.