- User Rating: Very Good
Pros:Sharon Stone, Photography, Score
Cons:Script, Michael Douglas
The Bottom Line: Basic Instinct is a high dollar thriller with superb production values that is sunk because of weak script and many lapses in logic. See it for Sharon Stone's bravura performance.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Dutch Director Paul Verhoeven put together a slickly packaged thriller in Basic Instinct. The trouble is, the story is too ambiguous and disjointed to really satisfy mystery fans no matter how well put together the production is. As a result it is like a cake with lots of sweet frosting but very little cake to go with it.
According to the "Making of Basic Instinct" short subject that accompanied the video, Paul Verhoeven revealed his intention to do homage to celebrated mystery director Alfred Hitchcock. In keeping with Hitchcock's style, he chose a cool blonde actress, Sharon Stone, and used a theme of kinky sex and bizarre serial murders. Even the Jerry Goldsmith score is meant to evoke the memorable scores Bernard Herrmann composed for Hitchcock's films.
The screenplay by Joe Eszterhas, who also wrote Jagged Edge, keeps the suspense going until the last shot, but the resolution of the mystery leaves the taste of ashes in the viewer's mouth. In the confusing mass of clues revealed in the second half, either of two characters could have been the serial killer and nothing is certain until the last frame when the killer is finally revealed. It's easy to see that the shot could have been left off or switched for another and an entirely different conclusion would have resulted. This type of ending would appeal to bean counters as the ending can be changed, after test screening, with a single edit. But this approach does an injustice to the screenwriter's art, assuming there is some in the first place. Lack of a coherent storyline is where Verhoeven missed the boat. Hitchcock always resolved his mysteries logically and rationally - everything tied up in a neat package. In Basic Instinct this lack of clarity is borne out in Verhoeven's weak explanations of the clues in the accompanying "making of" documentary.
Using dynamite-looking Sharon Stone as the female lead was among the best ideas Verhoeven came up with. The actress and director had worked together fruitfully in the 1990 action thriller Total Recall and Stone lobbied eagerly to work again with the director that had first brought her the attention of the film-going public. Stone does have the look and feel of a Hitchcock heroine, like Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren, or Janet Leigh - blonde, cool, and sensual, although Stone's performance raised the bar into the stratosphere as far as frankly depicted sexuality is concerned. Stone's interrogation scene where she exposes her pudendum to all and sundry is a legend in filmdom. The movie is worth seeing for this historic moment alone. Stone did a superb job in her characterization of Catherine Trammel, alternately acting innocent as a lamb and guilty as the devil.
Casting Michael Douglas as the leading man was more problematical. Although a fine actor, Douglas lacked credibility in the scenes that called for rough, brutal sex, although why Verhoeven required brutality in the sex scenes was beyond me - kinky sex would have sufficed for the story. As Nick Curran, a detective with a troubled past and under investigation by Internal Affairs, Douglas's rape of police psychiatrist Dr. Beth Gardner (Jeanne Tripplehorn) in police headquarters was over the top to say the least.
Supporting cast was very good, with George Dzundza as Douglas's partner and Jeanne Tripplehorn as the psychiatrist standouts.
Photography, by Jan de Bont, was immaculate with many Hitchcockian camera angles. Set design by Anne Kuljian was also first class. Film editing by Frank J. Urioste was extremely well done except for the lapses in logic. Special effects were also well done and convincing. The Jerry Goldsmith score was wonderful and gave real gravity to the production. The real detriment was the story and direction, which sacrificed logical development for sensationalism. Although Basic Instinct is a pretty good thriller, it had the potential to be so much more.
Those interested in thrillers will also like Jagged Edge, Fatal Attraction, and Jennifer 8 as well as any of Alfred Hitchcock's classic thrillers.
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age