The fact that To Do For is not more highly regarded is a mystery to me. It only garners a 6.7 on IMDB.com. All of the ingredients were there, an incredible and gifted director in Gus Van Sant, what I consider to be Nicole Kidman's finest performance, a wicked and not just satirical script and an excellent supporting cast.
Of particular note is Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of Jimmy Emmet, the typical high school metal head loser who becomes obsessed with Kidman's evil character, Suzanne Stone-Maretto. Phoenix is a gifted actor with a wide pallet to choose from. Contrast this performance with the job he does of playing The Abbe in Quills. It makes his role in To Die For all the stronger. Allison Folland is also a standout in her debut performance as Jimmy's pathetic friend Lydia Mertz. Together with Casey Affleck as Russel, the three unwittingly become assassins for the callous Mrs. Stone. The story is built up very effectively, and as a viewer there is never any doubt that these three "dorky" kids will pull the murder off.
Also magnificent and lending strong supporting roles are Dan Hedaya and Illeana Douglas who play Larry Maretto's father and sister, respectively. The part of Larry is played with near perfect un-bravado by Matt Dillon, who does so without his usual pomp and bluster. Basically, Larry is the perfect everyman trying to do right by his new wife and family [....]Hedaya is perfectly cast and uses his natural menacing qualities quite well. My favorite though, is Janice Moretto, Larry's sister played by Douglas, who is the only character who sees Suzanne for what she really is. The dancing on the grave ice-skating bit at the end is also really well done. Douglas doesn't fall once.
Hats off to Van Sant for a creating a satirical masterpiece that contains enough side elements to hold the viewers attention through more than one viewing. For instance, what exactly is Suzanne's relationship with her father? Also, the fact that Janice is most likely gay and this might be why she understands Suzanne so well. Cudos as well to the director for the style he employed, blurring the line between film and documentary. Some people have argued to me that To Die For contains too many cuts and flashbacks and consequently the viewer has a difficult time following the action. I do not find that to be true. Quite the opposite, I find the film to be compelling. Even after at least five viewings, To Die For firmly holds my attention throughout.