Palmetto 1998 Movie Scene Woody Harrelson as Harry Barber realizing he's been tricked

Palmetto [1998]

Highly underrated, Palmetto is one of those neo-noir movies which simply slipped through the cracks. It’s based on the 1961 novel Just Another Sucker by James Hadley Chase. I think that the title of that novel tells you a lot about this movie. We will be following a man who mere days after he was released from prison gets involved in a kidnapping scheme. The story is somewhat stereotypical and so are the characters. Woody Harrelson was perfect for the role of the “sucker” Harry Barber while Elisabeth Shue was one of the best femme fatales I have ever seen on film. Apart from them, we also have young Chloë Sevigny and dashing Gina Gershon.

And to answer the question that’s probably rolling around your head right now, no, there won’t be any nudity in Palmetto. However, there will be a lot of steamy and suggestive scenes. They demonstrate the fact that you don’t need to take off your clothes to make the scene feel sexy. Since the story is taking place in Florida, the heat and the humidity reminded me of The Hot Spot. That, also an underrated neo-noir masterpiece, does feature nudity. Moving on, Palmetto offers an intriguing story in which nothing is what it seems at first glance. 

This means there will be a lot of twists and turns, keeping things engaging ’till the very end. The atmosphere is rather casual, without any heavy subjects. It’s more of a case of a man who keeps finding himself in bigger and bigger trouble. He’s unable to stop himself from getting involved in this mess, realizing, in retrospect, what’s really going on. It’s that feeling you have when a slick salesman convinces you to buy something that you don’t need. Then you get home and realize what has happened but by that time, it’s already too late. Only in this movie, the stakes are much higher.

Harry Barber is a lucky man. He just got out of prison after serving only two years of his four-year sentence. He ends up in a random bar where his luck continues. A stunningly beautiful blonde walks into a bar to make a phone call and forgets her bag in the booth. Harry notices this and helps her get the bag back. The two of them start talking and before you know it, Rhea Malroux offers him a job. A risky but high-paying job Harry agrees to consider. What follows next is a series of fortunate and unfortunate events.

Apart from the intriguing story, the movie also offers several intense scenes you just don’t how are going to end. The finale was just a tad bit far-fetched but it fits the overall mood of the movie perfectly. I also liked the steady pacing hypnotizing you into watching this almost 2-hour movie. A 2-hour movie that feels much shorter thanks to the excellent story and performances. Now, the direction felt a bit off, sometimes phoning in certain scenes. It felt like you were watching a television, or better yet, a 60s noir movie.

However, exactly this separates it from the rest of the crowd along with a noticeable lack of nudity in what was advertised as an erotic thriller. I would also like to get back to the character Chloë Sevigny plays, a young and attractive girl with a dirty mind. If we look back to some of the classic seventies neo-noir thrillers, we’ll find a similar girl there too. Night Moves follows a detective looking for a missing teenager and so does Hardcore. Both of these movies are much more serious and fucked up affairs than Palmetto. If, however, you’re looking for something more casual do check out Kill Me Again.

Director: Volker Schlöndorff

Writers: James Hadley Chase, E. Max Frye

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue, Gina Gershon, Chloë Sevigny, Michael Rapaport, Tom Wright

Fun Facts: Palmetto is directed by Volker Schlöndorff, a German director who worked with famous European directors like Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Cercle Rouge). He also directed several operas.


IMDb Link:

YouTube player