Basic Instinct (1992) 3.34/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 66.3
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 127 mins
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza

Given its notoriety for what at the time was a relatively high level of sexual explicitness (and probably still is), Basic Instinct was quickly labeled as “controversy for controversy’s sake” and few saw the film as being anything more than gratuitous and shallow. However, when one takes into account Paul Verhoeven’s previous films such as Soldaat van Oranje, RoboCop, and Total Recall, one might be tempted to give him and his Basic Instinct project the benefit of the doubt.

Basic Instinct is an admirable and often entertaining attempt to play on the rules and traditions of the thriller genre which ultimately fails to reach the heights it aspired to. Michael Douglas stars as a troubled homicide detective investigating Sharon Stone’s deviously clever writer when her boyfriend is murdered in a manner she described in her previous novel. The early parts to this movie are quite engaging and a tantalising game of cat and mouse between Stone and Douglas offers many possibilities. The first one and a half acts are quite efficiently driven by a sexually and psychologically charged suspense even if the efforts to generate that suspense were overt and indelicate. There’s a distinctive visual style to the film as Verhoeven orchestrates his lighting, framing, and production design to successfully produce a soft and enticing noiresque vibe. The detail of the plot and the many intertwined subplots complement that vibe and gives the director and his much maligned writer Joe Eszterhas plenty of opportunity to expose and jauntily probe the rules by which studios market their films and the related rules by which audiences form expectations.

Unfortunately, the film struggles to get through the latter stages of its second act and as it does so, all that moderately sophisticated jibing gets dialled up to increasingly ridiculous and blunted levels. The final act is too drawn out and with it, the relevance of Verhoeven’s statement gets lost. The supporting cast (George Dzundza in the form of Douglas’ partner and Jeanne Tripplehorn as his on-again/off-again love interest and psychiatrist) don’t help this either through a combination of poor writing and confused acting. On the plus side, Douglas is strong throughout and coming as it did in close proximity to films like Fatal Attraction, Falling Down, and Disclosure, the sense of edginess which defined his career at that time can still be perceived in this performance. Stone for her part is in devilish form and despite all the controversy it caused, it’s one of her better performances. She really does command the screen when she’s on it independent of the help which Verhoeven was giving her. Overall, Basic Instinct is an interesting little thriller that tries to rise above its genre in a playful style. That it fails to do so because of a lack of delicacy and focus certainly reduces its impact but doesn’t fully negate its strengths.

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