Filmmaker Deon Taylor has made a career out of genre-bending thrillers, and Fatale is an exclamation point on his recent output. Michael Ealy plays Derrick, a successful sports agent suspicious that his wife (Damaris Lewis) may be unfaithful. One night in Las Vegas with his pals––business partner and best friend Rafe (Mike Colter) included––he makes a mistake: he has a one night stand.

Days later, back at home, Derrick is forced to fight off an intruder in the middle of the night. When the cops respond to the break-in, who is the detective on the case? The woman he slept with in Vegas! And, of course, Detective Valerie Quinlan (Hilary Swank) has problems all her own. Things get crazier from there, moving at a brisk clip that has marked most of Taylor’s work. This kind of packed genre programmer feels more special now than ever. Watching talented stars like Swank and Ealy play flawed characters flexing at each other in tense sequences of dialogue is frankly old-fashioned and refreshing.

A vicious color palette comes courtesy of the great cinematographer Dante Spinotti. Crisp neon accents nighttime scenes and Ealy’s stunning eyes have never popped off the screen harder. So often do modestly-budgeted pictures get flattened for the small, streaming screen. That is not the case here. The screenplay by David Loughery (who also wrote Taylor’s The Intruder from last year) certainly leaves a bit to be desired, but then any individual line matters little as compared to the narrative twists that are being set up.

Taylor has certainly mastered the ability to escalate a sequence, and Fatale offers some genuinely surprising moments. With these narratives, the action will inevitably slip into the ridiculous. What becomes so important is tone and execution. Taylor understands the kind of film he is making, and his actors do as well. One suspects every twist you’ve ever seen in a thriller from the 1990s is packed into this movie, and the crowded plot works.

It’s fun to watch Swank have fun playing the…ahem…femme fatale. She utilizes every facial expression available and the result is a truly manic, unsettling performance. Another highlight, without question, is the strong work from Tyrin Turner, who made a big splash in Menace II Society and has been mostly supporting on television ever since. Here’s hoping for more from him in the future.

Fatale works well as an updated throwback. It’s a well-made, well-acted neo-noir absent any sort of self-seriousness or superfluous posturing. An hour-and-a-half has rarely moved faster.

Fatale opens in theaters on December 18.

Grade: B

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