To Die For

Gus Van Sant

Nicole Kidman not only earned a Golden Globe for her fierce portrayal of Suzanne Stone Maretto in Gus Van Sant’s masterpiece To Die For but she also became an internationally respected actress stepping out from the shadow of then-husband Tom Cruise to announce that like Suzanne, she's ready to be taken seriously. Although to misquote Don Henley, unlike the film's flash-in-the-pan bubbleheaded blonde Suzanne, Nicole Kidman’s success was fully justified as she proved repeatedly in her impressive roles following To Die For.

Inspired by true events and based on the satirical novel by Joyce Maynard that was adapted into a wicked script by Buck Henry, the overly ambitious Suzanne, who feels that people are nobody unless they’re on TV, decides to do everything in her power to make her "newswoman" dream a reality. She marries the hunky drummer Larry Maretto (Matt Dillon) and changes him from bad-boy to breadwinner in order to position herself for the lifestyle she feels she deserves as she strives to become a journalist.

Feeling overwhelmed by her loving husband who desperately wants to start a family, Suzanne launches headfirst into her career by fast-talking small local channel head Wayne Knight into letting her work for him. Happy in her new position, Suzanne becomes the station’s golden haired, glamorous weathergirl and begins work on a documentary about issues surrounding teenagers at a local high school. Quickly, she befriends the unhappy, unconfident Lydia Mertz (a heartbreaking Alison Folland), amoral criminal in training Russell Hines (Casey Affleck) and the adoring Jimmy Emmett (an impossibly young Joaquin Phoenix) whose hopeless crush on Suzanne is used as currency by the devious diva when they embark on an affair.

Seeing her family conscious husband as an obstacle to success, Suzanne crafts a horrifying plan for her teenage pals to dispatch the narrow-minded Larry to further her goals. However, to again quote Don Henley’s "Dirty Laundry" (which was used in the memorable trailers for the film), the media loves to “kick ‘em when they’re up, [and] kick ‘em when they’re down.” For as we see in the opening moments of the film, her equally narrow-minded belief that nobody will catch on to what was behind Larry’s murder will be her downfall, even without focusing on whether or not the media driven masses will see fit to sentence Suzanne or set her free.

One of the most provocative films of the 1990’s made all the more timely given the O.J. Simpson trial, To Die For not only paved the way for Kidman and Phoenix to move onto a wider range of memorable roles. Even more importantly as IMDb noted, it also led to Van Sant’s biggest hit to date after To Die For wrapped and young Casey Affleck handed his director a copy of the screenplay his brother Ben had worked on with his good friend Matt Damon, which would earn the two writers an Academy Award for their little film called Good Will Hunting.