How many movies have we seen where a smoking-hot woman manipulates her way through murder and the subsequent trial? You’re not sure whether this Femme Fatale is really a killer or just a victim of our society, so you keep watching on, perplexed by this mystery. Guilty as Sin is a thriller that takes the familiar premise of a Femme Fatale and turns it on its head, into a Homme Fatale. And who better to play this charming, irresistible, and highly manipulative man than eighties heartthrob Don Johnson? Opposite of him, we have equally charming and irresistible Rebecca De Mornay. It’s funny to think that just a year earlier, she was the scheming one in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle.
Guilty as Sin follows Jennifer Haines, a successful defense lawyer who’s hired by David Edgar Greenhill, a man who supposedly killed his wife. What follows is a blend of courtroom drama and the battle of wits between Jennifer and David. The movie works like your usual nineties thriller featuring this single element that sets it apart from others. I think this reversal of roles was a brilliant move. Especially since Don Johnson ate up his role. Some aspects of it reminded me of a classic eighties comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine. Two of them play a couple of swindlers seducing wealthy women and then stealing from them.
I guess the correct term is male gold diggers. Moving on, I shouldn’t forget to mention Stephen Lang who looks almost too eighties here. He’s hardly recognizable with that fluffy hair and huge mustache. At least the muscles were there so you know this is Colonel Miles Quaritch from Avatar. The story and all the major events in the movie are exaggerated to the point of almost ridiculousness. However, thanks to the great performances and the willingness of the viewer to suspend belief, Guilty as Sin works as an interesting distraction. It provides a well-earned break from all the other nineties thrillers featuring similar stories.
Jennifer Haines just won a major case and she’s ready to celebrate that victory. Her client was a mobster but she’s a defense attorney just doing her job. So, she suspects nothing of her next potential client, seductive David Edgar Greenhill, a smooth widower who’s accused of murdering his wife. As she starts preparing for the case, Jennifer quickly realizes that there’s more to this story than meets the eye. She even hires a private investigator to look into this Mr. Greenhill and his past. And this is where things start to get complicated.
It sounds strange to say that Guilty as Sin, marketed as an erotic thriller, is actually directed by Sidney Lumet. He’s the guy behind such masterpieces as 12 Angry Men and Serpico. And just to be clear, there won’t be any nudity in this movie. The script plays with this character-driven battle between what is right and wrong. It oscillates wildly, oftentimes taking the viewer to unexpected places. For example, Greenhill’s view of older people during the scene with Moe in his office was devilishly hilarious. So, you can also look at this movie as a character study.
The ending was surprisingly graphic and brutal, especially when compared to the rest of the movie. And it feels quite abrupt, like the plot was slowly running out of steam so they gave it everything they’ve got in one last push. With the standard running time and solid pacing, this is a movie worth watching. If you’re looking for movies like Guilty as Sin, check out The Hot Spot, a more erotic thriller also starring Don Johnson but without the courtroom stuff.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Larry Cohen
Cast: Rebecca De Mornay, Don Johnson, Stephen Lang, Jack Warden, Dana Ivey, Ron White
Fun Facts: Although the story in the movie is taking place in Chicago, United States, Guilty as Sin was actually filmed in Toronto, Canada.