Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Written by: Joe Eszterhas
Starring: Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn
Due to their striking nature that stuns the world, some scenes seem to encapsulate an entire film and define them in a way. One only has to see a still of Sharon Stone sitting in an interrogation room to know how much Basic Instinct has become such a well-known entity. After watching the film in its entirety, the famous actor lived up to every inch of hype, but the story around her began to crumble.
After rockstar, Johnny Boz (Bill Cable) gets murdered with an ice pick after having sex with someone, Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) gets on the case to find the murderer. His clues lead him to question Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), who happens to detail the exact way Boz died in one of her novels and was also his sexual partner. Curran then gets involved in Tramell’s game as she seduces him and warps his thinking as he goes back and forth on whether she’s the murderer behind multiple homicides.
Everything great in Basic Instinct comes from Sharon Stone. The film that has immortalized her place in movie history and rightfully so. Even with my issues with the film, it cannot be denied that she owned every inch of the screen. The character of Catherine Tramell became an incredible study of how outward female sexuality makes men uncomfortable. That’s what occurs in her iconic leg-crossing scene, where she exposes herself to the detectives questioning her. She’s a type of character we have not seen before. Her actions feel aggressive when men feel much more comfortable with women being submissive. Tramell needs no one to save her, as she takes whatever she wants and refuses to apologize. It makes the character almost save the repetitive and lame plot that surrounds her.
The film opens with the death of Johnny Boz, which shows him having sex with Tramell. A scene that establishes her as the dominant person, but also makes it explicitly clear that she definitely murdered him. With that opening the rest of the film attempts to seduce the audience, much like Curran, to question the very foundation set up in the first scene. An idea with great intentions, but I ultimately felt incredibly underwhelmed by the execution and the end result. It comes from the weirdly transparent style of filmmaking that seems to repeat the same scenes multiple times as a tease of what has already transpired and what the future would hold. It thus creates a series of events that have no bearing or consequence to the story. After a while, I would just wait until yet another fake-out would occur put in place to make the audience fear for Curran when obviously nothing would happen. It only made the film feel longer than the actual runtime states.
With Tramell being the alluring figure of the tale, Detective Curran becomes the entry point for the audience into this story. He’s no angel himself, as he’s been involved in some gray area situations that have questioned his integrity. He became the perfect target for Tramell. He believes her to be the suspect because of her work as a novel. She has detailed the death of Boz in one of her books, and the next one happens to be about a detective who gets in trouble for falling for the wrong woman. A tactic meant to mess with Curran and it certainly works. Michael Douglas portrays this character well and the electricity between him and Sharon Stone is palpable in the way he falls into her game.
The best way to describe Basic Instinct would be the way it teases the audience. Tramell has everyone in the palm of her hands as she navigates this story. She never seems to lose control, as she teases the audience with the many instances where it appears that she will kill Curran or the other characters with her antics. The conclusion makes that tease feel like it was all for nothing, which may have been the point of the story the whole time. Sharon Stone certainly plays her part and makes Tramell an incredibly alluring and hellaciously dangerous person to be around. It’s a shame that the narrative around her did not live up to the performance she put on, but her excellence cannot be taken away. The film teased with greatness and came up short.