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Fatal Attraction Review

Between this film and Basic Instinct, you’d be tempted to assume Michael Douglas was making his bread playing alternatively put-upon or predatory every-men involved in high-stakes lust games with gorgeous women. In the case of Fatal Attraction however, the woman in question is Glenn Close, who few people would expect when considering a bombastically unhinged romantic interest. Where Paul Verhoeven infused his work with cautionary sexual energy, here director Adrian Lyne deals with the ennui of an ordinary married life and the tense body-wrecking pull of an affair. Lyne’s work has always dealt with questions of the mind and the body (he made the steamy Nine 1/2 Weeks and the generally underrated Jacob’s Ladder before and after this film, respectively, following up with Indecent Proposal), and he approaches thriller elements from a subdued standpoint, leading up to a shocking climax on a scene-by-scene basis. Fatal Attraction is likely his most famous film, a multiple Oscar-nominated chronicle of an affair between a bored everyman and a sociopath with possible suicidal tendencies. 

Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy New York lawyer with a wife, daughter and dog, who meets Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), an enticing woman with a full head of hair (you’ll see what I mean when you watch the film; people really did crazy things in the 80s). The two share a moment at a function and when Dan’s wife and daughter leave town, he is more than willing to jump crotch first (see what I did there?) into an affair with Alex, culminating in a no-holds-barred one night stand. Now that we’ve gotten the basic setup out of the way, the question remains: what differentiates this film from a dozen other storybook-life-gone-wrong thrillers? Lyne’s attention to detail and the performances are largely to hail for Attraction’s success, as the director invests heavily in accentuated set design and oftentimes mood lighting (a scene where Dan knocks over a lamp in pursuit of Alex is gorgeously lit and elegantly blocked). The mundane features of Dan’s apartment, Alex’s kitchen and bedroom and the country house into which Dan and the family move are all fully realized environments that feel lived-in or at least just-moved-into.

Much of the credit must go to Glenn Close, who once again reminds us that she’s one of the most experienced and underrated actresses in the business. In this, probably her most famous role, she is disturbingly realistic in her mannerisms and habits as an obsessively unhinged woman. She is by turns ecstatic in the power of her love and possessively neurotic, throwing fits and breaking down crying amidst the chaos. Her scenes with Douglas at the meat and potatoes of the film, and they don’t disappoint with Douglas also surprising in his lack of restraints during the more passionate scenes. The sex here doesn’t feel titillating but rather ominous and much credit goes to the leads and Lyne for really taking the fun out of the idea of an unfaithful tryst.

Overall however, Fatal Attraction suffers from a been-there-done-that feel that slowly suffocates it until it simply runs out of steam in the last 20-30 minutes. The stakes are high, Alex is on the loose and you can hardly bring yourself to care. You want a resolution to this slow-moving potboiler and the one Lyne delivers is completely off the path the film spends so much time trying to pave (the original ending, included on the disc, is much closer in mood and tempo). Lyne undoes much of the thrilling elements with a self-indulgent violent conclusion which ends with the one character you don’t want nor necessarily expect to get their hands dirty stepping in. Nevertheless, as far as thrillers go, Fatal Attraction goes above and beyond the lower depths preyed upon by borderline insulting affairs like this year’s Obsessed.

The Blu-ray transfer is surprisingly crisp for a generally darker film, where loss of light plays a big role. Outside scenes are clean and the upgraded transfer punctuates smaller details. Sound is true high-definition, not that it does much for a film that rarely needs to rise above casual dialogue. Music is sparsely used and sound effects are always clear.

DVD Bonus Features

Outside of a monotonous commentary by Lyne, the disc includes three short featurettes, "Forever Fatal", around 28 minutes, "Social Attraction", ten minutes, and finally "Visual Attraction" at 20 minutes. They are mostly talking head documentaries highlighting the making-of anecdotes behind the film, the impact of the film and the controversy generated by its take on sexual politics and the cinematography and production design behind it. Also included is the alternate ending, which I would recommend watching, with or without commentary by Lyne. Rounding out the extras is a rehearsal for Glenn Close and Anne Archer, who plays Dan’s wife.

"Fatal Attraction" is on sale June 9, 2009 and is rated R. Drama, Romance, Thriller. Directed by Adrian Lyne. Written by James Dearden (screenplay based on his short film). Starring Glenn Close, Michael Douglas, Anne Archer.

Jun
11
2009
Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.

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