In the middle of this drama, a wise old woman tells another of her sex: "Do you still think men love the way we do? No. Men enjoy the happiness they feel; we can only enjoy the happiness we give. They're not capable of devoting themselves exclusively to one person. So to hope to be made happy by love is a certain cause of grief."Christopher Hampton's screenplay of his theatrical hit Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an extended commentary on this theme. Set in eighteenth-century France, the film is a scintillating study of sexual politics. John Malkovich plays Vicomte de Valmont, a ruthless schemer and hedonist. Bored with his wealth, he connives with Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close in a devastating performance) to destroy the innocence of Cecile de Volanges (Uma Thurman), a convent-bred 15-year-old, and the virtue of Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), a married woman known for her strict morals and religious fervor. The two cold-blooded aristocrats strike a deal: if the two women are seduced and properly abandoned, Valmont will win an evening of sexual sport with Merteuil.
Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette) skillfully presents the cruel and heartless ways in which the two malevolent protagonists manipulate their targets and deceive others around them Cecile's mother (Swoosie Kurtz), Valmont's aunt (Mildred Natwick), and Merteuil's young paramour (Keanu Reeves). It is chilling to watch Valmont use his imagination to bring down Madame de Tourvel, who wrestles unsuccessfully with her conscience before submitting to him. Dangerous Liaisons has a contemporary resonance with its sharp-edged portrait of the battle of the sexes, its depiction of how boredom can corrupt, and its view of amorality as a destructive force in human relationships.