Killing Me Softly (2002)

Starring Joseph Fiennes, Killing Me Softly might be called Shakespeare in Lust, an erotic thriller which adds yet another turkey to the steadily disintegrating resume of Fiennes the Younger. Sonnet-boy is not without looks and talent, but he sure hasn't found much application for all that raw material. With his permanent 5 o'clock shadow now featured in all his screen appearances, he looks like he's ready to play Sonny Crockett in Bahamas Vice.

I can't name a movie that has been received worse than this in the past five years. Not even Swept Away or Glitter. Killing Me Softly bombed so badly in England (BEST review 3/10, according to The Guardian's synopsis) that its North American theatrical release was delayed three times, then finally cancelled altogether. You know that if MGM spends $25 million on a movie that they aren't going to throw it away without some serious consideration. I suppose they were right, in that the marketing costs in the United States would have been less than the studio's share of the gross, so they would have lost even more money, and would have had this film occupying a slot in their schedule that could have been filled with something more profitable.

It's not as bad as the critics complained, but it isn't a good movie, that's for sure. It does have all kinds of problems.

Let's start with the basics. Heather plays an American who is living in London, working as a web site designer. What's wrong with this picture? First of all, it is very difficult for employers to get permission to employ a foreigner unless they can demonstrate that the job can't be filled with a native. In my past positions, I had trouble getting some of our people work permits in England, and they were in positions which clearly had no trained equivalent in England. Even when we got the work permits approved, they were conditional. Perhaps they'd be issued for six months or a year, during which time we had to train someone from the UK to do the job and get rid of the Yank. How could an employer demonstrate that they had to fill the web design position with an American? Can we assume there are no web site designers in England as capable as Heather Graham?

But that's only the first question. The second question is even more important. If we assume that it was necessary to hire an American for the position, why in the hell would the company have to move her to England? It's the friggin' internet, for heaven's sake. It's global. She could have done the job from her home in Iowa, thus saving the British company tens of thousands of dollars in moving expenses. Scoopy Jr. designed the front page for while he was living 1000 miles away from my office. Tuna is 1000 miles away. Many of our site contributors live in Europe and Australia.

These problems all exist before the film even begins, as if there were no thought given to the premise at all. I guess that the character was originally British, but they wanted to hire an American actress who was not capable of a British accent, so they changed her nationality without giving the first thought to the fact that it made no sense. It would not have been a complicated thing to fix. It would have been a simple matter to give her a different profession, one that an English firm might need a resident American for, since her occupation was not a factor in the plot.

If it had been my call, I would have changed Heather Graham's role in more ways than just altering her unlikely profession. Heather seems like a sweet, sensitive person on camera. She is basically always Rollergirl - an awed, wide-eyed, late adolescent dripping with naiveté. Unfortunately, this script called for a more sophisticated approach. If it had been my decision, I would have re-written the part to make her a young, innocent American Midwestern kindergarten teacher on holiday in the UK. Since her profession wasn't germane to the plot, and the irrelevant scenes at work actually slowed the movie down, a different background could have given Heather a more credible presence in the role. Since she would have had no job in the UK, it would have made her completely dependent on her husband, which could have increased her paranoia level substantially, since she'd have nothing else to occupy her mind.

The film is about a young woman who gives up everything else in her life for lust. Alice (Heather Graham) has a good job and a stable loving relationship with her boyfriend. Yet everything changes the day she meets a stranger crossing the street. On an impulse, Alice destroys her safe life to have an obsessed affair with a glamorous, brooding, mountaineer named Adam (Joseph Fiennes). She plunges into a realm of sexual pleasure in an insulated world that revolves around only her body and Adam's. They are so obsessed with each other that the mountaineer proposes marriage and she accepts, although she knows nothing at all about him except that he's a good lay. Then things start to go wrong. Alice gets a series of mysterious messages which suggest that Adam may have killed a couple of his previous girlfriends. As she pries his past life open layer by layer, Alice starts to suspect that her impulsive decision to be with Adam may have threatened her sanity and even her life.

I haven't read the source novel, but I think they must have had some problems adapting it into a screenplay. In the film, we know nothing about either Adam or Alice, or any other character for that matter. As we watch, it seems that Alice agrees to marry a total stranger, but it doesn't matter that much to us, because she seems like a stranger as well. In the course of her mental deterioration, she never really confronts Adam with any of her suspicions, fearing that he will get upset. After she goes through an elaborate scheme to get his old love letters from a locked closet, and then gets caught, he asks, "why didn't you just ask me?". I was kind of wondering the same thing. The way it plays out in the movie, the lovers really had no connection other than sex. It seems to me that the book must have spent a great deal of time on that development, or at least on Alice's awareness that she was married to a stranger, but we never got the benefit of any of that exposition.

Without character development, what is left is basically a melodramatic, humorless erotic thriller, with a contrived over-the-top surprise ending, much like the dozens of similar films that seem to go straight to video every year. What sets this one apart from the mass of similar films? The following:


The ol' Rollergirl shows 'er breasts, buns, and very brief glimpses of 'er pubes

Shakespeare shows his buns

The character of "Adele Blanchard" is seen topless in a photo. The actress is not identified, and never appears in live scenes.

DVD info from Amazon

  • There is a widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1 and a full screen version. This link leads to the unrated version, but there is also an R available.

Paperback info from Amazon

  • The stars are genuine stars, not softcore sex specialists. It's Shakespeare and Rollergirl, for heaven's sake, and they're getting it on very enthusiastically. Heather Graham probably doesn't need to clear out her trophy case to make room for any Oscars, but she is one ultra babe, with beautiful legs, a gorgeous kewpie doll face, and a voluminous sweater full of natural flesh. The sex is shown fairly explicitly, in pretty hot scenes with two beautiful and famous people.
  • The film has $25 million worth of production values.
  • Although the critics didn't seem to think so, there were some moments when the suspense was managed well.

Those things aren't so bad. If it isn't Citizen Kane, it isn't so very awful as an erotic thriller.


Killing Me Softly (2002) is a thriller staring Heather Graham as an American from the midwest, who is living in London with a quiet structural engineer, and working making CDs and Web sites for corporate customers. On the way to the office, she and Joseph Fiennes meet at a crosswalk, and fall instantly in lust. She ends up going to his home, where the two practically rape each other. She can't resist him, and finding out that he is a famous mountain climber and a hero just makes him all the more attractive. She moves in with him, and then marries him. That is when she starts getting upsetting notes, and she begins to suspect that he murdered several previous girlfriends.

The sex scenes between Graham and Fiennes sizzle, and Graham shows all three Bs among several sex scenes, and changing clothes outdoors after her wedding. I screened the Unrated DVD version. The film did not receive a US theatrical release.
It was postponed thrice, having been slated first for September, 2001, then January 18, 2002, then September 30, 2002. Then never. The few reviews on line are not favorable. The fault was not with the two stars. They had real chemistry, the sex scenes were red hot, and I immediately cared about the characters. The problem was a poor script. The same story could have been told much better. There were also some continuity problems, especially with her bra in the first sex scene. It kept moving from pushed below her breasts, to pushed above her breasts, to covering her breasts. The photography, however, is top notch, as is the DVD transfer.

The Critics Vote

  • No major US reviews. (No theatrical release in the USA)

  • General UK consensus: worse than one star. Daily Mail 0/10, Daily Telegraph 2/10, Independent 3/10, The Guardian 1/10, The Observer 3/10, The Times 2/10, Evening Standard 2/10, The Sun 1/10, The Express 1/10

The People Vote ...

  • no theatrical release in the USA
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says. "This film is a C-. It isn't a good movie, but it has been underrated by the critics. I think it is probably minimally acceptable of you are looking for an erotic thriller. The IMDb score of 5.5 is a reasonable reflection of the film's merit and/or appeal" Tuna says, "This is a C-, and that is giving extra credit for getting Graham naked."

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