Basic Instinct (1992)

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Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Written by Joe Eszterhas

Rated R

Michael Douglas as Detective Nick Curran
Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell
Jeanne Tripplehorn as Dr. Beth Garner
George Dzundza as Detective Gus Moran
Denis Arndt as Lieutenant Phillip Walker
Leilani Sarelle as Roxy Hardy
Bruce A. Young as Andrews
Dorothy Malone as Hazel Dobkins

Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct is a grisly, sexually-charged adult thriller. Such a description was a perfect fit for a then-fortysomething Michael Douglas, who began exploring his cinematic carnal side in 1987’s Fatal Attraction. He would have another such role after Basic Instinct, with 1994’s Disclosure. Basic Instinct falls somewhere in the middle of this “trilogy,” punctuated by an alluring, dangerous blonde femme fatale.

The gay community was up in arms over the depiction of homosexuals in this movie. Given the fact the film was released 22 years ago, I suppose the fight for equality was more of an uphill battle. Perspective. Anyway, I’m not sure why there was a fuss. The major lesbian character in the film is unlikable, but not offensive. The bisexual character in the film seems more interested in the concept of experimenting with bisexuality. Her biggest character flaw is that she may be a sociopathic killer. The main heterosexual character in the film is a self-destructive cop, with a career that’s shaky after a shooting that may or may not have been caused by his substance abuse issues.

What’s more, he’s attracted to dangerous woman. You know, the kind of smart women that entice dumb men into falling in love (or lust) with them. How about that for The Women’s Movement? Bottom line: Basic Instinct doesn’t seek to be a social commentary about anything of substance. The film is not making a statement about women’s liberation, the advancement and equality of gays and lesbians, etc. Basic Instinct is a film about teasing the viewer with its mystery and audacious ability to shock. As such, Basic Instinct is a successful film, entertaining and sometimes riveting.

It’s easy to forget that many films are made with the sole purpose of entertaining the moviegoer. Sharon Stone become a household name as Catherine Tramell, a bestselling novelist whose rocker boyfriend is viciously killed with an icepick. Is it a coincidence that Tramell has written a book with a similar murder?

Yes and no … or so she’d have the cops believe. When Nick Curran (Douglas) and his partner Gus (George Dzundza) bring her in for questioning, Tramell toys with the Penis Club in the room, mercilessly and seductively in an interrogation scene has become something of film legend. When she’s told there is no smoking, she asks, “what are you going to do, charge me with smoking?” It’s not high-level screenwriting, but Stone makes it memorable. It’s just one of several memorable Stone-delivered lines in the film.

There are some interesting supporting characters. Jeanne Tripplehorn, also her breakthrough role, as a mysterious police psychologist; Dzundza as Douglas’s abrasive partner (he is the film’s sole comic relief). Douglas may have courted typecasting by taking on a role similar to his Fatal Attraction role, but he’s persuasive as a damaged, hard-nosed cop, addicted to risky behavior and other health-comprising devices. Stone is obviously the runaway star of the film, and she has some terrific scenes. In others, she seems like she’s too aware that all eyes will be on her, every minute. Maybe that’s point. I dunno.

I enjoyed Basic Instinct. Stone managed to pull me into her web, and I liked the film’s twists and turns, no matter how obvious and absurd they seemed. What I didn’t like was the ending, which seemed like a copout after everything that came before it. Eszterhas wrote a similar - and much better - screenplay, 1985’s Jagged Edge, with more subtle and complex performances by Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges. Basic Instinct is more tawdry (indeed, the film’s sex scenes had to be trimmed to get an R rating; the unrated director’s cut is available on DVD and Blu-ray), but Edge is a smarter film.

1 comment:

  1. Good exploration of the cultural significance this film had on the gay community and also acknowledging that the story doesn't just entertain the viewer but also makes them think!