There’s a point in Body of Evidence where Willem Dafoe’s lawyer, Frank Dulaney, is having dinner with his wife Sharon (Julianne Moore) and his son Michael. Sharon leaves, and Michael asks Frank a pointed question about his latest case.
“Can you screw someone to death?”
And that’s the million-dollar question Body of Evidence tries to answer throughout its running time. We start on the set of a homemade sex tape, where a blonde woman epitomizing the femme fatale, rides atop an old, wealthy man whose hands are tied to the bedposts. Cut to the morning and the man, Andrew Marsh, is found dead by erotic asphyxiation. Police are investigating the scene of the crime, and Robert Garrett (Criminal Minds’ Joe Mantegna) is to lead the prosecution against Marsh’s lover, Rebecca Carlson (pop icon Madonna in her acting phase). A young woman dating an old millionaire? Sounds and looks suspicious, especially in 90s Portland, Oregon, described as a conservative bastion in comparison to more liberal enclaves like Los Angeles.
As far as B-movie erotic thrillers go, Body of Evidence is an excellent addition. Following in the vein of movies like Basic Instinct, the first act does everything in its power to establish Madonna’s Rebecca as a seductress, a Medusa whose eyes won’t turn you to stone but will leave you lusting after her to no end. She’s a temptress to the public eye but something to desire for those who run into her. Frank Dulaney is no different. As her lawyer, he tries to carry out his fiduciary duty but struggles as he learns more about the woman and her dark sexual tendencies. The court case deals with erotic facts, and with his libido charged up, Frank makes love to his wife early in the movie with a newfound vigor and luster, possibly imagining Rebecca in his wife’s place.
“You’re great when you get a big case,” Sharon says, and Madonna’s Rebecca can undoubtedly have that effect.
How long is this marital bliss going to last when Frank’s dealing day in and day out with a blonde bombshell, whose every movement is calculated and choreographed to warp his self-control? It feels inevitable that he’ll succumb at some point, but there’s also the other side of the coin where Rebecca’s motives and intentions are never fully revealed. After all, she’s the one on trial.
While Body of Evidence plays with sexual tension and chemistry, it also proves to be a worthy courtroom drama with ample twists and turns. As someone unfamiliar with most legal principles, I was hooked, to say the least. Mantegna and Dafoe flex their intellectual muscles plenty of times, pulling in surprising pieces of testimony at different junctions to keep the thriller engrossing in the courtroom. Outside the courtroom, well, Madonna’s got that covered.
She sets up the action to give us ample doubt about what she’s truly capable of, in the bedroom and elsewhere. A remarkable scene involves the hood of a car, broken shards of glass, and Madonna of course. Combine those three elements (and a willing gentleman), and you can expect some kinky BDSM action to unfold. What can’t this woman do? When her sexuality thrives on pain, the possibility of someone dying in orgasm is not a far-reaching conclusion. But it all boils down to motive.
For viewers familiar with the B-movie landscape, Body of Evidence is a must-watch. It ticks all the boxes when it comes to erotic thriller pre-requisites and provides ample fodder through its legal high jinks. Dafoe and Mantegna duking it out in court and Madonna playing puppet master from start to finish should be enough of a selling point.
Watch it. Just do it. If you’re a fan of the singer, watching Madonna in Body of Evidence is a completely different experience to her musical performances. It’s more restrained, but on point with her brand.
If you’re a fan of romance films, take a look at our other reviews, most of which cover sleazy entries.