Friday, January 25, 2013

Basic Instinct (1992) - Sharon Stone at her Sexiest

Basic Instinct: Sexy Sharon Stone Steals Michael Douglas' Movie

DVD cover Basic Instinct 1992
"Basic Instinct" (1992).

"Basic Instinct" (1992) is a sexy crime drama that proved to be the peak of Michael Douglas' career and the start of Sharon Stone's period of greatest success. Written by and directed by Paul Verhoeven, who would later team up again for the ill-fated "Showgirls," "Basic Instinct" was a Hollywood phenomenon that retains its iconic force. It proved hugely profitable for Carolco Pictures and its distributor, Tristar Pictures, and its controversial depiction of a bisexual sociopath in a lead role only helped sell more tickets.

Sharon Stone Basic Instinct

While the sexuality in "Basic Instinct" is not too graphic, the relationships are presented in just the right way to lure in average viewers and then titillate them without provoking any guilt. The director's cut released years later is even steamier, and the best choice for anyone interested in seeing "Basic Instinct" today.

Sharon Stone Basic Instinct

The script is a bit too insistent on pointing all the clues in one particular direction, with a weak "twist" at the end that naturally trumps all those clues as far as the authorities are concerned. In addition, "Basic Instinct" loses steam after about the halfway point, becoming just another "let's see how the real killer wriggles out of being caught" crime film. So, then, what is the big deal about "Basic Instinct"? The performances in "Basic Instinct" are what make it a classic.

Sharon Stone Basic Instinct

Sharon Stone pushes her character's arrogance in her own invulnerability and infallibility through the roof, treating the police investigating her as so many idiots to be used and abused as she wishes, with absolutely no fear of being caught. It is a brilliant portrayal of a Narcissistic personality who uses her own sexuality as a weapon against just about everyone. Michael Douglas is at his conflicted best, and the supporting cast does just what they need to do, no more and no less.

Michael Douglas George Dzundza Basic Instinct 1992
Nick Curran and partner have some questions in "Basic Instinct."

A rock star, Johnny Boz (Bill Cable), is murdered with an ice pick in his room by an unknown blonde woman, and homicide detective Nick Curran (Douglas) is assigned the case. He learns that the last person seen with Boz was Catherine Tramell (Stone), a crime novelist who lives in a Pacific Heights mansion. When he goes to visit Tramell with partner Gus Moran (George Dzundza), Curran finds only Tramell's lesbian lover, Roxy (Leilani Sarelle), who directs them to Tramell's beach house. There, Tramell does not appear too concerned about the death, and they discover that Tramell has written a novel which has numerous similarities to Boz's murder.

Michael Douglas Sharon Stone Basic Instinct 1992
Sharon Stone puffs away like mad before and during the interrogation in "Basic Instinct."

Curran and Moran bring Tramell in for questioning, setting up the most famous film scene of the 1990s. Tramell is argumentative and intimidating, refusing to stop smoking and deliberately crossing her legs in such a fashion that it becomes obvious that she is wearing no underwear under her miniskirt and has no compunctions about showing herself. She answers the questions in as haughty a manner as possible and makes the police uncomfortable while remaining completely self-possessed. She also passes a polygraph exam.

Sharon Stone smirking in the squad car Basic Instinct 1992
Sharon Stone with a perfect arrogant smirk in "Basic Instinct."

Curran has his own problems - he accidentally shot two innocent people while high on drugs - and police psychologist Dr. Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn) counsels him while also having sex with him. A colleague, Lieutenant Marty Nilsen (Daniel von Bargen), doesn't like Curran and makes fun of him at a bar, and Curran then takes Garner home and takes it out on her with rough sex. Curran then does some further investigating of Tramell and learns that her parents died young, leaving her a fortune. Further, while Tramell was in college, one of her college advisors was stabbed in his sleep with an ice pick in the same manner as Boz. Her former fiancé, a boxer, died in the ring during a prize fight. Tramell is friends with Hazel Dobkins (Dorothy Malone), a murderer, and she also knows other murderers. Everywhere he looks, Curran finds odd things about Tramell related to murder.

Sharon Stone Basic Instinct 1992
Head held perfectly level, gaze direct, clothes perfect, hand perfect, smoke perfect in "Basic Instinct." A beautifully composed shot.

When Curran goes to visit Tramell again, she reveals knowledge of confidential information that could only have come from his police dossier on her. Garner confesses that she gave the file to Nilsen, who Curran then surmises gave the file to Tramell just to make his life difficult. Confronting Nilsen, Curran slugs him, leading to his suspension from the police force. Curran drinks to forget his problems and has an emotional argument with Garner, suggesting that he is out of control. Nilsen is later found dead in his car, shot in the head with a bullet that may have come from a police revolver. Curren becomes the prime suspect.

Sharon Stone Basic Instinct 1992
Sharon Stone's expansive hand gesture says "I own this space" in "Basic Instinct."

Tramell tells Curran that she is writing a novel that will have its police officer hero based on Nick. The plot has the female suspect killing the character based on Curran. Curran responds by telling Tramell that he loves her but still is going to prove that she murdered Boz. Roxy then tries to run Curran over with Tramell's car out of jealousy, but loses control of her car and crashes, dying in the wreck. Roxy, it turns out from a sealed juvenile court file available only upon her death, killed her two brothers when she was a teenager. Curran begins having doubts about Tramell's guilt, but Tramell then tells him that she had an a lesbian affair with a girl in college that ended badly when the girl became obsessed with her. Curran finds out that the girl was Garner, who confesses to the affair but claims that it was Tramell who became obsessed. Garner's husband was later murdered by the same caliber bullett that killed Officer Nilsen.

Sharon Stone Basic Instinct 1992
Meanwhile, the detectives can't help but be entranced by those legs in "Basic Instinct."

Curran again visits Tramell's house and finds a copy of her latest novel on the printer. It ends with character purportedly modelled after him finding his partner dead, lying in an elevator. Tramell appears, saying simply that the book is done, and abruptly breaks up with Curran. Curran then visits his own partner, Moran, who is investigating the college lesbian incident. Curran waits in the car while Moran goes in to talk to Tramell's old college roommate. A hooded figure then appears and stabs Moran multiple times, killing him in the elevator in the manner detailed in Tramell's new novel.

Wayne Knight Basic Instinct 1992
Nobody in the business can sweat profusely like Wayne Knight in "Basic Instinct."

Curran finds the dead Moran, grabs his gun, and suddenly sees Garner in the hallway. She claims that a message told her to meet Moran there. Curran suspects that Garner murdered Moran, and when she makes a suspicious movement, he shoots her. When the police arrive, they find an ice pick, wig and other items in the stairwell, their conclusion being that Garner killed Moran, left her disguise in the stairwell, and then came out to meet Curran as if nothing had happened. Further evidence in Garner's apartment implicates her in the murders of Boz, Nilsen, Gus and perhaps even her own husband.

Sharon Stone Michael Douglas Basic Instinct 1992

The other detectives feel that all of the cases have been solved because Garner was a serial killer, but Curran is not so sure. He thinks, based on what he read in Tramell's unpublished novel, that Tramell set up Garner. Back at his apartment, Curran finds Tramell waiting for him, and they make love, while the camera reveals an ice pick hidden underneath his bed that Tramell apparently reaches for at one point.

Michael Douglas Sharon Stone Basic Instinct 1992
Sharon Stone's eyes say, "I know you're watching, and I don't care."

The beauty of "Basic Instinct," besides all of the gratuitous sex (and there is plenty of that), is that the convoluted plot, with the circumstantial evidence continually mounting against Tramell, keeps the viewer guessing how on earth Tramell will get out of being caught. "Basic Instinct" explores the limits of evidence and the assumptions that we all naturally draw from basic facts, then shows how those assumptions can be manipulated to mean precisely the opposite of what we presume. The underlying theme is the limitations of "proof" and the ability to get away with just about anything if the groundwork of false leads is lain precisely enough in advance. In "Basic Instinct," the intellect and cunning of Tramell manages to create a false picture of reality to serve Tramell's own purposes, with all seemingly obvious assumptions drawn from what appears to be conclusive evidence at the very least questionable and, quite probably, completely false. As such, "Basic Instinct" is a forerunner of all the police procedurals of the late 1990s and early 2000s which try to explain with certainty what evidence actually implies, when, in fact, there are no absolutes about evidence at all. Evidence is just that - evidence - and nothing more, with questions always hanging over just what seemingly obvious evidence actually proves about guilt or innocence.

Jeanne Tripplehorn Basic Instinct 1992
Jeanne Tripplehorn as Garner: her natural guilelessness is perfect for the part of Dr. Garner

There are lots of crime thrillers and police procedurals, but "Basic Instinct" stands head and shoulders above the pack. For one thing, the busy script gives Stone and Douglas plenty of time to chew the scenery. Also, the acting by everyone is stellar, with Stone at her smoldering best and Douglas eschewing his usual wise-guy persona from films like "Romancing the Stone" and "Wall Street" to nail a troubled, uncertain character, someone who acts as confused about what is actually going on with Tramell as the audience feels. The entire production is of high quality, from the score by Jerry Goldsmith to Verhoeven's subtle nods to the true master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, to the attractive leading ladies. The costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick, deserves special mention for the stylish outfits Stone wears throughout, especially the severe white number for the big interrogation scene.

Michael Douglas Sharon Stone Leilani Sarelle Basic Instinct 1992
Tramell playing both Roxy and Curran at the same time. Roxy just looks needy and possessive, Stone in complete control in "Basic Instinct."

The background facts about "Basic Instinct" are startling. Stone was far down on the list of contenders for the role of Tramell, being known mostly for television appearances and minor features like "Allen Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold" (in which she is radiant), "Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol" and the supporting role of Arnold's wife in "Total Recall" ("Consider this a divorce"). Only after half the leading ladies of the time in Hollywood - from Michelle Pfeiffer to Geena Davis to Kathleen Turn to Ellen Barkin - turned the role down because of the nudity or other factors (Lena Olin didn't like Eszterhas) was Stone offered the part. The interrogation scene was a key stumbling block for many, but it was essential for selling the film. It wasn't just straight guys who were fascinated by Stone uncrossing her legs. Straight girls could also be fanatical about getting the VHS and replaying that scene over and over, trying to pin down precisely what could be seen.

Leilani Sarelle Sharon Stone Basic Instinct 1992
Stone's hand placement shouts, "I own this, this is what I value." It is brilliant acting by Stone in "Basic Instinct."

That is not to say that no actress would take the part, just that many high profile names at that time were very worried about their images. Ultimately, though, turning down the part hurt them. Catherine Tramell was a career part that would have helped anybody's career, and many of those A-listers fell down the rankings as quickly as Sharon Stone ascended them. Michael Douglas, in turn, made the right decision in refusing a request that he go full-frontal naked or have his character be bisexual, neither of which could possibly have helped the film with the audience.

Leilanie Sarelle Basic Instinct 1992
Roxy leaving in a huff in "Basic Instinct." Tramell having played her perfectly in "Basic Instinct."

Sharon Stone's attitude toward this role also reveals a lot about Hollywood in those days. Sharon Stone later tried to claim that Verhoeven tricked her into the famous crotch-baring scene, saying that he did not disclose what would be shown. Supposedly, she only realized what had happened when she saw it in the dailies, and then demanded its removal, but with the scene shot it was too late for her to do anything about it. Verhoeven, on the other hand, claims in response that Stone was in on the crotch shot all along, until Stone's agent warned it would hurt her career, which made her change her mind. Everybody thus tried to appear innocent and blameless, while allowing the scene to go out to audiences.

Sharon Stone Basic Instinct 1992

One fact is clear: the leg-crossing scene was not spelled out in the script, but was all Verhoeven's idea to show how fearless and free-spirited Tramell could be. It all sounds just like the later "sex tape" incidents, with the woman involved invariably claiming it was all done without her consent, but then also invariably cashing in as much as possible later. Nowadays, starlets don't even have to be paid (directly) for flashing the public as they exit their limos, it's all good in the name of publicity, just spell the name right. But "Basic Instinct" was before all the sex tapes and the flashing, and, in fact, may have inspired all of that because of what it did for Stone's career.

Paul Verhoeven Basic Instinct 1992
Paul Verhoeven, master of the modern twisted-relationship picture such as "Basic Instinct."

"Basic Instinct" is a classic crime thriller. It remains a triumph for Paul Verhoeven, Joe Eszterhas, Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone and Jeanne Tripplehorn. The pacing is tight, the writing is superb, the acting is subtle and nuanced, and the sexy visuals are smoking hot if you like that sort of thing (and not just of Stone's interrogation scene, but her lesbian posturing and everything else as well). The sex scenes are as graphic as Verhoeven could get away with, making them still titillating even compared to the more openly sexual films that followed down the years.

Sharon Stone Basic Instinct 1992

Whatever she turned into later (skip the sequel "Basic Instinct 2," the moment was long gone by then and Stone no longer young and desirable), Sharon Stone was magnificent in "Basic Instinct," playing up the arrogance of Tramell while giving the audience what it didn't even know it wanted. There was a sequel, "Basic Instinct 2" (2006), that also starred Sharon Stone, but skip it unless you absolutely have to see an inferior rip-off. "Basic Instinct" is highly recommended, be sure to get the director's cut for the full effect.


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