Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Premise: A police detective (Michael Douglas) gets involved with a mysterious novelist (Sharon Stone) who is the lead suspect in a murder case.
What Works: Basic Instinct is a reworking of film noir detective thrillers but made for a contemporary audience. Many of the familiar traits and characters are here, like the detective who crosses ethical lines, corruption in the department, and a femme fatale who may or may not be a killer. But despite these familiar components, Basic Instinct does not just replay the events but retools them and in effect comments upon the genre. Where older incarnations of this kind of story might have dismissed the idea of a policeman acting out violently as just what a hard boiled detective would do, Basic Instinct makes him accountable for those actions and undermines his manhood. The film is very effective at demoralizing the men of the film who try to assert control over the police department, over suspects, and over women. The film constantly foils masculinity and brute force, namely in the now famous interrogation scene. The centerpiece of Basic Instinct is Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell. Her character really is one of the great villains in American film and Stone plays the role perfectly, using femininity as a weapon but also occasionally revealing a sensitive woman underneath and then making us question whether that sentiment was real or a ploy to lure the detective further into her trap. Basic Instinct is still remembered as a deeply sexual film, and it is, but what is interesting about these scenes is that they are played to the secondary and tertiary levels. Issues of control, femininity and masculinity, and right and wrong are played out in the scenes of sensuality, making them important parts of the storytelling.
What Doesn’t: Some bits of the film have not aged as well and the dialogue, although intended to invoke 1940s film noir, gets stilted in places.
DVD extras: The Director’s Cut Ultimate Edition includes a commentary track, an introduction by Sharon Stone, documentaries and featurettes, screen tests, storyboards, and trailers.
Bottom Line: Basic Instinct is a very good thriller. The film might be a bit excessive in places but its extremities usually serve some deeper story purpose.
Episode: #227 (February 15, 2009)