Cruel Intentions

USA 1999

Reviewed by Edward Lawrenson


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

New York. On a school break, Kathryn Merteuil tries to persuade her stepbrother Sebastian Valmont to deflower Cecile because she is now dating Kathryn's ex-boyfriend Court. Sebastian prefers to pursue the virginal Annette Hargrove. Kathryn bets him he can't sleep with her before school convenes.

Sebastian meets Annette, but she's wary of his libertine reputation. Cecile falls in love with her music teacher Blaine, but the two are parted when Cecile's mother Bunny finds out about the relationship. Sebastian seduces Cecile when he discovers it was Bunny who tipped off Annette about him. But he and Annette are falling in love and eventually have sex. Taunted by Kathryn for falling for Annette, Sebastian breaks up with her but regrets it. Denied access to her, he sends her his journal which details the bet he made with Kathryn and begs for forgiveness. Kathryn falsely tells Blaine, her new lover, that Sebastian beat her up. Infuriated, Blaine attacks Sebastian in the street; Annette, having read the journal, turns up. Sebastian is killed pushing her out of the path of a passing car. At his funeral, Cecile hands out copies of his journal which exposes Kathryn's wicked ways.


"E-mail is for geeks and paedophiles" - so the incorrigible young Lothario Valmont tells us in writer-director Roger Kumble's debut film Cruel Intentions. This typically sharp line allows the movie to retain the narrative logic behind Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons dangereuses, the 1782 epistolary novel on which it is based. Motivating journeys to drop-off points, acting as incriminatory evidence, letters here have a far more important function than, say, the drippy e-mails exchanged in You've Got Mail.

But there's another reason why Kumble's updating of Laclos' eighteenth-century classic to the world of rich New York teenagers works so well. Familiar from many a teen-pic, the milieu of Cruel Intentions is almost as preoccupied with social standing - with jocks and preppy model students at the top of the pile, geeks at the bottom - as the society Laclos was writing about. The film draws out these parallels without straining for effect. Valmont's opulent apartment is decorated with Louis XIV-style furniture while the dialogue echoes lines from the novel. The young cast display a flair for Kumble's very specific comedy of manners, memorably demonstrated, for instance, by the disgust that flickers on Kathryn's face as Cecile suggests they have a girly "sleepover". Newcomer Selma Blair as Cecile is a particular revelation, changing under Valmont's generous tutelage from gauche schoolkid to sexually experienced young woman.

A clever reworking of a literary classic, Cruel Intentions' brand of intertextuality is closer to Clueless and a bit more upmarket than the knowing references to horror schlock that pepper Kevin Williamson's teen-pics. But despite the air of cynicism exuded by its coolly uncaring characters, it also turns out to be a rather wholesome and morally upright movie, though not quite as trite or dispiritingly bland as Williamson's television series Dawson's Creek.

So while the film contains a few swipes at high-school conformity (gay football star Greg's fear of being outed) there's none of the mischievous anger found in, for example, Heathers. Kathryn may complain about having to behave like "Marsha fucking Brady" but she's such a wilfully unscrupulous character it's difficult to take anything she says at face value. Valmont, meanwhile, ultimately renounces his libertine ways; he dies saving Annette, only to be fondly remembered by her as she drives off in his car in an unusually sentimental montage sequence. Here, Kumble preserves the book's moralistic suggestion that Annette's virtue can redeem even a sinner such as Valmont. Unlike Laclos, who dispatches her counterpart to a convent where she dies, Kumble rewards Annette for her virtue. Speeding off in Valmont's Jaguar, she's sent out into the world, enriched by her experiences.


Neal H. Moritz
Roger Kumble
Suggested by the novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos
Director of Photography
Theo Van de Sande
Jeff Freeman
Production Designer
Jon Gary Steele
Edward Shearmur
©Cruel Productions, LLC
Production Companies
Columbia Pictures presents in association with Original Film and Newmarket Capital Group a Neal H. Moritz production
Executive Producer
Michael Fottrell
Co-executive Producers
William Tyrer
Bruce Mellon
Chris J. Ball
Heather Zeegen
Production Co-ordinators
Catherine S. McComb
NY Crew:
Lonnie Kandel
Production Manager
NY Crew:
Diana Schmidt
Unit Production Manager
Sara E. White
Location Managers
Jacqueline Butryn
NY Crew:
Nancy Roth
Post-production Supervisor
Jenifer Chatfield
Assistant Directors
Sam Hill
Alicia Valdez
Melissa Cummins Lorenz
NY Crew:
Amanda Slater
Aida Rodgers
Script Supervisor
Karon May
Mary Vernieu
Anne McCarthy
Camera Operators
Robert Gray
NY Crew:
George Pattison
Jamie Silverstein
Digital Effects
Light Matters/Pixel Envy
Special Effects
Matthew Pope
Art Director
David S. Lazan
Set Decorators
Tessa Posnansky
NY Crew:
Ronnie Von Blomberg
Scenic Artist
Sharleen Bright
Costume Designer
Denise Wingate
Costume Supervisors
NY Crew:
Deirdra Elizabeth Govan
Charles C. Crutchfield
Wardrobe Supervisor
Sandra Collier
Bradley Wilder
Karen Blynder
Dugg Kirkpatrick
NY Crew:
Rose Chatterton
Brenda Blatt
Pacific Title/Mirage
Music Editor
Amanda Goodpaster
"Every You Every Me" by Brian Molko, Stefan Olsdal, Steven Hewitt, Paul Campion, performed by Placebo; "You Blew Me Off" by/performed by Bobby Bare Jr; "Money Hungry" by/performed by Marc Ferrari, Karen McAuley; "Coffee & TV" by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Steven Alexander, James Rowntree, David Rowntree, performed by Blur; "Symphony No 9 in D Minor, Op 125 "Choral" by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra with Budapest Philharmonic Chorus, conducted by Janos Ferencsik; "Lovefool" by Nina Persson, Peter Svensson, performed by The Cardigans; "Ordinary Life" by/performed by Kristen Barry; "Comin up from Behind" by Sherry Fraser, performed by Marcy Playground; "Addictive" by Pauline Taylor, Maxi Jaxx, Rollo Armstrong, Ayalah Bentovim ('Sister Bliss'), performed by Faithless, contains a large sample of "Addicted" by/performed by Pauline Taylor; "Trip on Love" by Tom Kimmel, Liz Vidal, performed by Abra Moore; "Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G Major" by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by German Bach Soloists, conducted by Helmut Winschermann; "Like the 40's" by Marc Ferrari, Don Great, William Loose, performed by William Loose; "Praise You" by Norman Cook, Camille Yarbrough, performed by Fatboy Slim, features a sample from "Take Yo Praise" by Camille Yarbrough; "Bedroom Dancing" by Matthew Hardwidge, Phelim Byrne, performed by Day One; "Colorblind" by Adam F. Duritz, Charles Gillingham, performed by Counting Crows; "This Love" by Craig Armstrong, Jerry Burns, performed by Craig Armstrong featuring Elizabeth Fraser; "You Could Make a Killing" by/performed by Aimee Mann; "Bittersweet Symphony" by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Richard Ashcroft, performed by (1) The Verve, (2) The Andrew Oldham Orchestra; "Secretly" by Skin, Len Arran, performed by Skunk Anansie
Production Mixer
Kim H. Ornitz
NY Crew Sound Mixer
Rosa Howell-Thornhill
Re-recording Mixers
Paul Massey
D.M. Hemphill
Supervising Sound Editors
Bob Newlan
John Morris
Dialogue Editors
Michael Benavente
Allison Fisher
Stephanie Flack
Sound Effects Editor
John Thomas
Jeff Gomillion
Susan Dudeck
Hamilton Sterling
Stunt Co-ordinators
Peter Bucossi
Shane Dixon
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Kathryn Merteuil
Ryan Phillippe
Sebastian Valmont
Reese Witherspoon
Annette Hargrove
Selma Blair
Cecile Caldwell
Louise Fletcher
Helen Rosemond
Joshua Jackson
Blaine Tuttle
Eric Mabius
Greg McConnell
Sean Patrick Thomas
Ronald Clifford
Alaina Reed Hall
Hiep Thi Le
Deborah Offner
Mrs Michalak
Tara Reid
Marci Greenbaum
Drew Snyder
Hargrove, the headmaster
Herta Ware
Mrs Sugarman
Swoosie Kurtz
Dr Greenbaum
Christine Baranski
Bunny Caldwell
Charlie O'Connell
Court Reynolds
Fred Norris
meter maid
Ginger Williams
Columbia Tristar Films (UK)
8,759 feet
97 minutes 20 seconds
Colour by
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Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011