Paramount // 1987 // 119 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 1st, 2009
On the other side of drinks, dinner and a one-night stand lies a terrifying love story.
"This is not gonna stop. It keeps going on and on."
Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas, Wall Street) is a reasonably happy and successful man. He is married to a beautiful woman (Anne Archer, Patriot Games), he has a young daughter, and he has a high-paying job as an attorney. One weekend, Dan makes a mistake. His wife is out of town, he's feeling a little frisky, and a woman named Alex Forrest (Glenn Close, Air Force One) is putting some moves on him. He spends the weekend with her. It's an enjoyable weekend, but when it has concluded, Dan feels appropriately guilty and determines to put the whole thing behind him. There's just one problem: Alex isn't going to let Dan go. What follows is a series of increasingly nightmarish confrontations between the two that slowly build to a breaking point. How much of Dan's life is Alex willing to ruin to get what she wants? How far is Dan willing to go to stop her? Find all the answers to these questions and more in Fatal Attraction!
Fatal Attraction is an iconic part of pop culture that has left an impression on the vast majority of those who have seen it. The film was a considerable hit for Paramount back in 1987, and managed to secure six Academy Award nominations: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Picture. Despite having heard quite a lot about the film, I had never actually seen it. I was curious to check out this much-lauded thriller, and this new Blu-ray release gave me a good excuse to do so. Now that I've actually seen it, I have a question. How on earth did such an overheated load of tripe manage to gain that many Oscar nods?
Fatal Attraction actually begins quite well. The first third of the film focuses on the story of a man and woman conducting a passionate affair over the course of one wild weekend. This sequence is helmed with vigor by director Adrain Lyne, who is no stranger to sexually-charged dramas (9 ½ Weeks, Unfaithful, Indecent Proposal and the remake of Lolita). So far, so good. The set-up is intriguing, and we are curious as to what the fallout of this affair will be. The second act is even better, as a tense relationship develops between Douglas and Close. In this portion of the film, we have an examination of a needy human being abusing the knowledge of her affair in order to blackmail a man she wants. The behavior exhibited here is real and familiar, and the characters are surprisingly well-developed. I was geared up for a tremendous final act.
Ah, but during the last 40 minutes or so, the entire film lunges full speed ahead towards the direct-to-DVD B-thriller bin, turning into a preposterous parody of itself as Close becomes a rampaging psycho-killer. I really, really hated the last act of this movie, mostly because what came before was so promising. The filmmakers took a perfectly good drama and somehow transformed it into an illogical, hysterical waste of time. Close ceases to be a real character and instead turns into a thoroughly ordinary one-dimensional villain. The film sets us up for complexity, and then delivers simplicity.
Permit me a spoiler, if you will. About halfway through the film, it is revealed that Close is pregnant with Douglas' child. This is a fact that should make the situation even more complicated than it all ready is. However, during the last act, the pregnancy is not mentioned or regarded in any way. Wouldn't it have been interesting if Douglas' burning desire to violently defend himself from Close was tempered by the fact that she was carrying his unborn child? Admittedly, earlier in the film he offers to help pay for an abortion, so he evidently doesn't want the child (though she insists on having it anyway). Still, why bother introducing such a loaded plot element when you aren't going to do anything with it?
Close and Douglas are good actors, but they have both done vastly better work than what they offer here. I watched this film shortly after seeing Douglas in Falling Down, a very strong example of the actor's abilities. He's on autopilot here, playing a completely normal nice guy who makes a mistake and does what he can to get out of it. There isn't anything terribly interesting about him. Douglas is competent, but little more. Meanwhile, why is it that so many initially interesting Glenn Close performances have taken the same path as this one? Whenever she plays a villainous character, she begins in a very entertaining manner but ultimately becomes a squawking embarrassment (see 101 Dalmatians, Cookie's Fortune, Mary Reilly, and a host of other films). Not to add insult to injury, but frankly, Close just doesn't look particularly attractive in this film. I find it somewhat hard to believe that she could inspire the sort of, "what a knockout!" comments her character frequently generates. Mind you, I typically don't think external beauty is important when it comes to selecting an actor for a role...but when we are supposed to accept that a character is astonishingly gorgeous, perhaps it would be appropriate to find someone who fits the bill?
From what other reviews have claimed, this film didn't look particularly good on DVD, and things apparently haven't gotten a whole lot better in hi-def. The soft image here still seems dirty and grubby at times. Despite the general lack of actual flecks and scratches, the image just looks rather muddy, as if it could use a good scrubbing. Flesh tones seem a little off at times, and the level of background detail is seriously lacking. A minimal level of grain is present throughout, and the image ultimately just looks bland. Of course this transfer is the best the film has received so far, but it's not good enough to warrant an upgrade. The audio is quiet and subdued throughout most of the film, allowing the minimal sound design and Maurice Jarre's synthetic score to quietly murmur and rumble throughout this conversation-driven drama. The track is well-distributed, but not exceptionally exciting. Meh.
The bonus features have been hauled over from the previous special edition DVD: An audio commentary from director Adrian Lyne, some very lightweight featurettes ("Forever Fatal: Remembering Fatal Attraction," "Social Attraction: The Cultural Phenomenon of Fatal Attraction," and "Visual Attraction"), some rehearsal footage, an alternate ending (in HD) and a trailer (also in HD). The commentary is really the only worthwhile feature of the batch, as Lyne provides some engaging thoughts on the film.
After the dust settles, the best thing about the film is the performance of Anne Archer. Throughout much of the film, she seems so joyful and full of life. When Douglas ultimately tells her the truth, to witness the happiness draining out of her is a heartbreaking sight. She is the most human character in the film, and the only one who manages to stay real during the hyper fireworks of act three.
This disc offers little to warrant an upgrade, and the film easily ranks as one of the most overrated Best Picture nominees I have ever seen.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Rehearsal Footage