Black Widow is available in: English on Netflix USA
Federal agent Alexandra Barnes believes that Catherine Petersen is a serial killer who marries rich men and then murders them for their money. But since Catherine is seemingly a master of disguise and has multiple identities, Alexandra can't prove anything with conventional detective work. With no other option, she goes undercover, pursuing the same man as Catherine, and hoping that Catherine will slip up and reveal her true identity.
Black Widow is directed by Bob Rafelson and written by Ronald Bass. It stars Debra Winger and Theresa Russell. Music is by Michael Small and cinematography by Conrad L. Hall.
Two women. Catherine marries men for their money, then murders them. The other, Alexandra Barnes is on her tail, getting in close to hopefully expose her crimes…
Rafelson’s neo-noir homages the film noir femme fatales of the 40s and 50s with a high degree of success. There’s much potency in the screenplay that puts it firmly in the noir universe. Flip flopping the misogyny angles of yesteryear, pic pitches the ultimate femme fatale destroyer of men into a cat and mouse scenario with a sexually repressed opponent – or is she a jealous but secret admirer? The transformation of Winger’s dowdy Justice Department Agent into a blossoming lady at Catherine Black Widow’s (Russell super sexy and sensuous) side brings in the doppelgänger effect, a good old noir staple. The sexual tension is a constant, particularly when Paul Nuytten (Sami Frey) is brought into proceedings, something which shifts the piece still further into noirville.
There’s also other characters straight out of film noir. Be it Alexandra’s boss (the always reliable Terry O’Quinn), who’s a lech harbouring desires for Alex, or sleazy Private Investigator H Shin (James Hong) who has a needle habit, it’s clear that Rafelson and Bass know their noir. Unfortunately most of the play is in daylight, meaning missed opportunities for some psychological shadow play is passed up. Though it should be noted that Hall’s photography is slick and tonally in tune, especially when lighting scenes involving Russell as prime focus. It all builds to a splendid finale, the makers pulling us both ways as to where it will lead. Sure, some of the plot devices are weak, but in the main this is sexy, intriguing and tricksy in narrative, whilst tech credits stay at the higher end of the scale. 7/10