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Basic Instinct (1992)

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Score: 8/10

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 7 min.

Release Date: March 20th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Paul Verhoeven Actors: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Leilani Sarelle, Dorothy Malone, Wayne Knight, Stephen Tobolowsky

T

he opening scene is an abrasive mix of sex, nudity, and brutal ice pick mutilation as retired rock star Johnny Boz (Bill Cable) is butchered by a blonde beauty. San Francisco Police Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) lands the homicide investigation, which must be handled with care, as Boz was a civic-minded contributor to the mayor’s election fund. Curran immediately investigates the girlfriend, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), who is bitingly sarcastic, devious, seductive, overconfident, and a professional at mental manipulation and pulling strings. But Curran is determined to uncover her secrets, and he’s certain that his sauce-riddled, alcohol-fueled, accidental tourist-shooting, internal affairs-muckraked past won’t get in the way.

Tramell soon becomes the only suspect, especially when it’s discovered that she wrote a book the year before about a rock star who is murdered by his girlfriend… with an ice pick. A simple ride from her house to the precinct for a routine interrogation reveals her incredible control over words, her psychological prowess with cat-and-mouse games, and her ability to beat a lie detector test. She’s cold, calculating, and mysterious; whether or not she’s a psychopathic obsessive or a vicious killer with the perfect alibi, all the clues point in her direction alone. As Nick toils over his troubled history, his shaky relationship with departmental therapist Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn), and an increasing infatuation with the captivating blonde suspect, he learns of Catherine’s schooling at Berkeley and the death of a professor there who was, quite eerily, stabbed to death with an ice pick.

If it’s 1992, why does everyone have giant blocks of ice and picks in their homes? Michael Douglas turns in one of his finest performances as the bewitched detective, with convincing expressions, natural delivery, and a range of startling emotions. Stone is just as effective, despite appearing a touch contrived with her conspiratorial approach to allurement and fast-and-loose attitude towards her opponents. The main source of intrigue, however, comes from writer Joe Eszterhas’ tricky dialogue – a screenplay that was apparently written in just a few days and sold for an unheard-of $3 million. Jerry Goldsmith’s suspenseful, noirish score compliments every aspect just as sharply, and would pick up an Academy Award nomination for its significance.

Everything in “Basic Instinct” is a bit excessive, from the blood-spattering violence to the revealing nudity (including the most memorable scene of Stone uncrossing and crossing her legs, showing what was then assumed to be too taboo for an R rating) and even to the romance. This extremeness is, of course, a trademark of director Paul Verhoeven. Like the jagged surfaces of freshly cracked ice chunks, all of the details of the characters and their relationships are rough around the edges, muddied up to prevent anyone from being undesirably clean cut.

Verhoeven is adroit at psychological thrillers with role reversals, mystifying camerawork paralleling previous shots, and intricately complex plot twists. Even while he’s pushing buttons and stretching the boundaries of conventionality, he still incorporates artsy filmmaking techniques. Transitioning from his previous two films, “Robocop” and “Total Recall,” both equally toying with the censors despite being incredibly intelligent science-fiction works, this fearless director has created a highly controversial, highly erotic murder/mystery that has become a paradigm of the genre.

– Mike Massie

 



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