Filmsite Movie Review
Basic Instinct (1992)
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Background

Basic Instinct (1992) is a suspenseful, cat-and-mouse erotic thriller with psychosexual overtones. Its director-writer team of Paul Verhoeven (known for earlier films Robocop (1987) and Total Recall (1990) and then Showgirls (1995)) and Joe Eszterhas (known for Jagged Edge (1985)) created this exploitative, soft-porn, excessive, controversial film known for its negative portrayal of lesbianism, violence, initial X-rating, and voyeuristic, sensational, gratuitous sex. In 1990, Eszterhas had sold his script for the erotic thriller to Carolco Pictures for a record $3 million.

Womens' groups called the film misogynistic, and gay-rights groups in San Francisco called it stereotypically-homophobic and gay-bashing. They charged that the main murderess suspect in the film was a denegrating portrayal since she was a mentally-unstable, psychotic lesbian and bi-sexual. The film was also criticized for its confrontational scene between the detective and the main suspect's leather-clad lesbian lover.

One of the top-grossing films of its year (at almost $120 million), although originally threatened with an NC-17 rating that would have considerably cut profits, star Sharon Stone's career as a sex goddess was also revived in her copy-cat Hitchcockian murder-mystery role, similar to Vertigo (1958), as an icy, femme fatale blonde - a suspected ice-pick murderess whose novel was titled Love Hurts. In particular, she gained notoriety for the film's interrogation scene in which she uncrossed and re-crossed her legs while wearing a short white mini-dress (without panties). The film's poster declared: "A brutal murder, a brilliant killer, a cop who can't resist the danger." Another of the poster taglines stated: "Flesh seduces. Passion kills."

A critically-lambasted, belated sequel by director Michael Caton-Jones, Basic Instinct 2 (2006) (originally subtitled Risk Addiction) found the now 47 year-old Sharon Stone character (ice-pick suspected murderess and novelist Catherine Tramell) living in London where she was being treated by a psychiatrist (David Morrissey) - who fell for her game of seduction.

The Story

The film opens to a man and women making passionate love, reflected in a ceiling mirror. The woman straddles the man and moves her hips atop him - her face is hidden by her long blonde hair. She reaches for a white silk scarf and ties each of her lover's wrists back to the headboard of the bed. As they both move and grind and arch their bodies toward sexual climax, her right hand extends back and she reaches for an ice-pick - she repeatedly stabs him with the sharp, phallic-like device. The orgasmic frenzy of the kinky, erotic scene with sexual thrusting turns brutal, raw, and violent with multiple ice-pick thrusts that cause gushing, spurting blood.

The murder scene in San Francisco is investigated by a tough police detective named Nick Curran (Michael Douglas). The victim is Johnny Boz, a mid-60s "retired" rock star and owner of a nightclub down in the Fillmore. Time of death is estimated as being around 2 am early that morning. The deceased left the club with his girlfriend about midnight - the last time anybody saw him. The bloody, naked corpse is still stretched out and tied up on the bed. Crudely, the detectives use special glasses and a laser light to view several cum stains on the sheets: "He got off before he got off." The case is considered sensitive because "Mr. Boz was a major contributor to the mayor's campaign and Chairman of the Board of the Palace of Fine Arts." Uncharacteristically, the police find several lines of white cocaine powder laid out on a small mirror on the side table.

Boz' girlfriend is named Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) who lives at 162 Divisadero in the city. [Her home is actually located at 2930 Vallejo Street.] San Francisco detective Nick Curran is ordered by Lieutenant Phillip Walker (Denis Arndt) to "work the case." He and another detective Gus Moran (George Dzundza) ring the bell of Catherine Tramell's lavish mansion-home in San Francisco to question her. While waiting in the beautifully-decorated parlor, they are impressed by a Picasso painting on the wall:

Gus: Ain't that cute? They got his and hers Picassos.
Nick: Gus, I didn't even know you knew who Picasso was.
Gus: (pointing to the signature) Sure I do, says right here.
Nick: (looking at the painting) Hers is bigger.

At that moment, a blonde (Leilani Sarelle) descends a circular staircase from upstairs:

The Woman: Are you vice?
Nick: No, we're homicide.
The Woman: What do you want?
Gus: When is the last time you saw John Boz?
The Woman: Is he dead?
Gus: Why do you think he's dead?
The Woman: Well you wouldn't be here otherwise, would you?
Gus: Were you with him last night?
The Woman: You're looking for Catherine, not me.
Nick: Who are you?
The Woman: I'm Roxy. I'm her friend.
Nick: Well, Roxy, do you know where your friend is?
Roxy: She's out at the beach house at Stinson. Seadrift 1402.
Nick: Thanks.
Roxy: You're wasting your time. Catherine didn't kill him.

Gus and Nick drive along the coastal shoreline on a winding road to Stinson Beach, where they enter the driveway of the multi-million dollar deluxe "beach house" where two ultra-expensive sportscars (one white, one black) are parked in the driveway. The two detectives walk around the side of the house to a wooden, oceanfront terrace perched above the spectacular bluffs and breakers. There, they find Ms. Tramell (Sharon Stone), a gorgeous, classically-blonde beauty, seated in a deck chair facing the water. Before they finish identifying themselves, she interrupts them with an even voice: "I know who you are." She already knows about the murder, but is inquisitive about how Boz died. Nick fills her in: "With an ice pick."

Their questioning reveals her cold, icy, overtly sexual, fast-track life style:

Nick: How long were you dating him?
Catherine: I wasn't dating him. I was f--king him.
Gus: What are you? A pro?
Catherine: No, I'm an amateur.
Nick: How long were you having sex with him?
Catherine: About a year and a half.
Nick: Were you with him last night?
Catherine: Yes.
Gus: Did you leave the club with him?
Catherine: Yes.
Nick: Did you go home with him?
Catherine: No. We had a drink at the club. We left together. He went home and I came out here.
Nick: Was there anyone with you last night?
Catherine: No, I wasn't in the mood last night.
Nick: Let me ask you something, Ms. Tramell? Are you sorry he's dead?
Catherine: Yeah. I liked f--king him. Look, I don't really feel like talking anymore.
Gus: Listen lady, we can do this downtown if you want.
Catherine: So read me my rights and arrest me and then I'll go downtown. Otherwise, get the f--k out of here. (A long pause) Please.

From a busy corridor at Police Headquarters back in San Francisco, Nick walks into an open office door with a nameplate: "Dr. Elisabeth Garner - Counseling." The dark-haired police psychologist Beth (Jeanne Tripplehorn) is assigned to counsel Nick in the department as a recovering alcoholic and cocaine abuser. They are ex-lovers and his personal life has been affected by their separation: "My sex life is actually pretty s--tty after I stopped seeing you. (He shows her his palm) I started developing callouses," Nick admits. He also hasn't "had a drink in three months" and he doesn't use coke: "I'm working my ass off. I'm off the sauce. I even stopped smoking." In his treatment consultation, the troubled detective wants to be cleared: "Now you tell I.A. [Internal Affairs] I'm just your average, healthy, totally-f--ked up cop and let me outta here. Please." As he walks to the door to head out, she tells him: "I still miss you Nick," but he doesn't turn back to acknowledge her.

The report on the brutal ice-pick murder includes gruesome details, no clues, and no solid leads in the case: thirty-one stab wounds to the neck and chest, no usable fingerprints, no forcible entry, nothing missing. No prints on the K-Mart brand ice-pick either. The scarf is an expensive Hermes, and sells about 20,000 a year worldwide. Boz inhaled the high-quality, high-content cocaine - evidence was found on his lips and penis. And Mr. Boz left five million dollars, no direct survivors, no criminal record. "He liked his drugs, he liked his girls, he liked his rock-and-roll."

Catherine Tramell is the prime suspect: age 30, no priors, no convictions. Magna cum laude Berkeley, 1983. Double major: Literature and Psychology. She is the daughter and sole survivor of Marvin and Elaine Tramell who were killed in a boating accident in 1979. She was the sole heir. Estimated assets: $110 million. And formerly engaged to Manuel Vasquez, deceased, a former middleweight contender who was killed in the ring in Atlantic City in 1984.

Coincidentally, she writes thriller novels whose plots seem very close to real events. Her latest book describes a murder committed in a very similar way:

Nick: I love it. She's got a hundred million bucks. She f--ks fighters and rock and roll stars. And she's got a degree in screwing with people's heads.
Lt. Walker: You forgot about her degree in literature. She's a writer. She published a novel last year under a pen name. Do you want to know what it's about? It's about a retired rock and roll star who gets murdered by his girlfriend.

Back in his apartment that night, Nick reads Catherine's latest pulp paperback, Love Hurts (penned by Catherine Woolf). He notes a section of the novel that parallels the crime being investigated, and calls his partner:

Page 67, cowboy. Do you know how she does the boyfriend? With an icepick. In bed. His hands tied with a white silk scarf.

In a conference room in police headquarters the next day, Dr. Beth Garner introduces Dr. Lamott (Stephen Tobolowsky), a teacher of the pathology of psychopathic behavior at Stanford and a member of the Justice Department's Psychological Profile Team, to explain the deviant behavior. Either the writer is guilty of pre-meditated murder, or there is an obsessed, copy-cat killer wishing to frame the writer:

Dr. Lamott: I see two possibilities. One: The person who wrote this book is your murderer and acted out the killing described in ritualistic, literal detail. Two: Someone who wants to harm the writer read the book and enacted the killing described to incriminate her.
Nick: What if the writer did it? What are we dealing with?
Dr. Lamott: You're dealing with a devious, diabolical mind. You see, this book had to have been written at least six months, maybe even years before it was published, which means that the writer had to have at least planned the crime in the subconscious, back then. Now the fact that she carried it out indicates psychopathic obsessive behavior in terms not only of the killing itself but also in terms of applied advance defense mechanism.
Gus: You know, sometimes I can't tell s--t from shinola, Doc. What was all that you just said?
Beth: She intended the book to be her alibi.
Dr. Lamott: Correct.
Beth: She's going to say: Do you think I'd be dumb enough to kill anyone in the exact way I described in my book? I wouldn't do that because then I'd know I'd be the suspect.
Nick: So what if it's not the writer? What if it's, uh, someone who read the book? (Beth gives Nick a long, enigmatic stare)
Dr. Lamott: You're dealing, then, with someone so obsessed that he or she is willing to kill an irrelevant and innocent victim in order to place the blame on the person who wrote that book. I'm talking about a deep-seated, obsessional hatred and an utter lack of respect for human life.
Gus: So we've got a once-in-a-lifetime, top-of-the-line, looney-tooney the way you cut it -- that's what you're saying, right, Doc?
Dr. Lamott: You're dealing with someone very dangerous and very ill.

The case's assistant district attorney, John Correli (Wayne Knight) believes the prime suspect, Catherine Tramell "hasn't got an alibi" but "she hasn't got a motive either." He doesn't believe questioning her would do any good: "She'll just waltz in with some superstar lawyer who'll get us all canned for wasting the taxpayers' money." But Nick believes that she will not be a conventional suspect: "I don't think she'll hide behind anybody. I don't think she's gonna hide at all."

A bird's eye view of the beach house shows the detectives' unmarked car pull into the driveway, where only the black sportscar is parked. Nick politely asks Catherine to "come downtown and answer some questions." She accepts and asks to "change into something more appropriate" in her bedroom. While the two detectives wait for her, Nick picks up an old newspaper on the coffee table which she has conspicuously laid out - with headlines and a photograph of himself:

COP CLEARED IN TOURIST SHOOTING - Grand Jury Says Shooting Accidental.

Nick once killed some tourists under questionable circumstances and is considered prone to violence for killing innocent bystanders in the line of duty. Nick notices that the mirror of Catherine's half-open bedroom door reflects her stripping naked as she changes her clothes. He slowly walks closer for a better view as she puts her white dress on - without underwear.

On the oceanfront drive to the police station as she sits behind the two detectives in the back seat, Catherine lies about being out of cigarettes, predicts that Nick's abstention from cigarettes "won't last," and admits to "workin' on another book."

Gus: It must really be somethin' -- makin' stuff up all the time.
Catherine: Yeah. It teaches you to lie. (The two detectives look at each other, not believing what they are hearing)
Gus: How's that?
Catherine: You make stuff up, it has to be believable. It's called suspension of disbelief.
Gus: I like that. "Suspension of Disbelief."
Nick: What's your new book about?
Catherine: A detective. He falls for the wrong woman. (Nick turns around)
Nick: What happens?
Catherine: She kills him.

The film is most famous for the following scene, one of the best in the film: the police interrogation scene. A video camera on a tripod is set up to record the proceedings. Tramell has waived her right to an attorney (boldly she says, "I have nothing to hide," confirming what Nick has already suspected) and is seated in a chair in front of a room full of male police detectives. She is poised, cool, and sits there in command of the situation, refusing to stop smoking even though there's no smoking permitted in the building: "What are you going to do? Charge me with smoking?" She matter-of-factly flirts and manipulatively toys with the libidos and sexual appetites of the men as she tersely reveals her past sexual activities with the victim and plays sex games with their minds:

Corelli: Would you tell us the nature of your relationship with Mr. Boz?
Catherine: I had sex with him for about a year and a half. I liked having sex with him. He wasn't afraid of experimenting. I like men like that. Men who give me pleasure. He gave me a lot of pleasure.
Corelli: Did you ever, uh, engage in sado-masochistic activity?
Catherine: (She smiles and leans forward) Exactly what did you have in mind, Mr. Corelli?
Corelli: Did you ever tie him up?
Catherine: No.
Nick: You never tied him up?
Catherine: No! Johnny liked to use his hands too much. I like hands -- and fingers.
Lt. Walker: You describe a, uh, white silk scarf in your book.
Catherine: (She removes her white outercoat) I've always had a fondness for white silk scarves. They're good for all occasions.
Nick: But you said you liked men to use their hands, didn't you?
Catherine: No, I said I liked Johnny to use his hands. I don't make any rules, Nick. I go with the flow.

As predicted by Dr. Lamott, she admits that she would have to be stupid to write about killings that later materialize (the camera zooms in on her face as she answers):

I'd have to be pretty stupid to write a book about killing and then kill somebody the way I described it in my book. I'd be announcing myself as the killer - - I'm not stupid.

She confuses the police by associating representative fiction and actual truth. After admitting to cocaine use with Mr. Boz, she surprises the audience by directing a follow-up question toward Nick:

Have you ever f--ked on cocaine, Nick?

She smiles and revealingly uncrosses her legs, flashing her panty-less private parts at him. And then she re-crosses her legs in the opposite direction. The rest of the questioning is completed by Nick - they toy with each other and dig their eyes into each other:

Catherine: (finishing her answer about 'f--king' on cocaine)...It's nice.
Nick: You like playing games, don't you?
Catherine: (She lights a cigarette lighter in front of her, producing a small flame) I have a degree in psychology. It goes with the turf. Games are fun.
Nick: What about boxing? That's a game. Was that fun too?...
Catherine: Boxing was fun, 'til Manny died.
Nick: How did you feel when he died?
Catherine: I loved him. It hurt.
Nick: How did you feel when I told you Johnny Boz had died?
Catherine: I felt like someone had read my book and was playing a game.
Nick: But it didn't hurt -
Catherine: No.
Nick: Because you didn't love him --
Catherine: That's right.
Nick: Even though you were f--king him.
Catherine: You still get the pleasure. Didn't you ever f--k anybody else when you were married, Nick?
Lt. Walker: How did you know he was married?
Catherine: Maybe I was just guessing. What difference does it make? (She mocks and taunts him) Would you like a cigarette, Nick? (She lights a cigarette for herself)
Corelli: Do you two know each other?
Nick: No.
Catherine: No.
Lt. Walker: How did you meet Mr. Boz?
Catherine: I wanted to write a book about the murder of a retired rock and roll star. I went down to his club. I picked him up. Then I had sex with him.
Lt. Walker: You didn't feel anything for him. You just had sex with him for your book.
Catherine: In the beginning. (She glances at Nick) Then I got to like what he did for me.
Gus: That's pretty cold, ain't it, lady?
Catherine: I'm a writer. I use people for what I write. Let the world beware. Do you want me to take a lie detector test?

Refusing to be bullied by any of the males, she voluntarily volunteers for a lie detector test - the polygraph examination is performed in a bare, windowless cubicle with an examiner. She has sensors placed on her fingertips and arms, and belts strapped above and below her breasts. The polygraph operator bends over the machine and studies strips of graph paper from the machine. He rips the paper out and asks her to wait while he takes it to a video monitoring room where she is watched by Nick, Gus, and other police. As she looks straight into the lens of the TV camera - and then lights a cigarette, the examiner reports to them: "No blips, no blood pressure variations, no pulse variance. Either she's telling the truth or I've never seen anyone like her." Nick is convinced she is lying and is fooling the machine although the evidence seems to contradict him: "Because I know people who've done it."

Nick offers to drive Catherine home in his car - it is pouring rain that evening. He compliments her on her ability to fool the polygraph:

Nick: Beating that machine can't be easy.
Catherine: If I was guilty and I wanted to beat that machine, it wouldn't be hard. It wouldn't be hard at all. You took a lie detector test after you shot those two people, didn't you?
Nick: I passed.
Catherine: You see, we're both innocent, Nick. (He gives her a long, hard stare)

When he stops the car in the front of her house, he seems perturbed by her omniscient interest in him:

Nick: You seem to know an awful lot about me.
Catherine: You know an awful lot about me.
Nick: I don't know anything that's not police business.
Catherine: You know I don't wear any underwear, don't you, Nick? (She slips off her shoes and runs barefoot through the rainy puddles into her home)

Nick joins his police pals at a San Francisco bar, where he orders his first drink "in three months," obviously frazzled by the interrogation and insisting: "She doesn't know me, OK?" after Lt. Walker suspects that Nick is taking an inordinantly personal interest in the suspect: "What is all this 'Nick' stuff?"

Lt. Walker: ...She passed the polygraph, that's it!
Nick: She knew how to beat it. That's why she asked to take it.
Lt. Walker: How in the f--k do you know? What is it with you and this broad, anyway?
Nick: Come on, Phil, don't let this one slide. What about her parents? What about what else she's published? Maybe all her books got a funny way of coming true?

In a nearby booth, a sneering Lt. Martin Nilsen (Daniel Von Bargen) notices Nick has begun to drink again and baits him with his doubly-suggestive nickname: "Hey, Shooter - you back on the Black Jack, Shooter?...Don't work too hard, Shooter. It might drive you to drink." Nick can't restrain himself and faces Nilsen: "Stop riding me, man, I'll kick your f--kin' teeth in!" The police psychologist Beth, who has just entered the bar, helps to calm Nick down - "her favorite patient" according to Nilsen. As Nick and Beth leave the bar together, Lt. Walker wonders: "Sometimes I think he started bangin' her just to get himself off the hook with Internal Affairs."


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