Wednesday, August 20, 2014

1987 - Fatal Attraction

Who'd have thought raising a baby would take up so much time? Between looking after Charlie and getting things together for our theatre company's next play (more on that soon), movie-watching opportunities have been negligible. On top of that, we're also organising our imminent move to Los Angeles, so things are busy, to say the least.

I finally found a spare couple of hours to look at another 1987 Best Picture contender...

Fatal Attraction
Adrian Lyne
James Dearden
Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Stuart Pankin, Ellen Foley, Fred Gwynne
Academy Awards:
6 nominations
0 wins

Dan (Douglas), Beth (Archer) and their six-year-old daughter Ellen (Latzen) are the picture of a perfect family. But when Beth and Ellen take a weekend trip to the country to scope out the new family house, Dan throws matrimonial bliss out the window and shamefully has a brief affair with a work acquaintance, Alex (Close). When he tries to end it, Alex won't take no for an answer and it soon becomes clear that she's far from the fun-loving gal Dan thought he was fooling around with. After trying to manipulate him to stay by slitting her wrists, she eventually takes to stalking Dan and his family, threatening to tell Beth everything.

With a solid place in pop culture, Fatal Attraction is most definitely a thriller, but director Adrian Lyne also imbues the film with many shades of film noir, particularly evident in the steamy lighting and cinematography. And to go one step further, I suspect he was also giving a subtle nod to Hitchcock and his most famous psychological thriller, Psycho, when in the concluding moments of the film, we see close ups of a shower drain, taps and water flowing, followed a few moments later by a knife cutting through the shower curtain.

Despite these homages to cinema classics, the film begins with a distinctly more modern aesthetic. There are several seemingly improvised scenes of casual conversations, creating a very naturalistic atmosphere. This eventually gives way to all the gratuitous thriller tropes, the most frequent of which is the sudden shock as the villain appears "unexpectedly." We even get treated to the old wipe-the-steam-off-the-mirror-to-reveal-a-knife-wielding-maniac-standing-behind-you trick. Although, I must say, even though many of these moments are tired clichés, they're still so effectively creepy ... which probably explains why they get used so often.

In fact, watching the film with the knowledge of what's going to happen (due to both the film's fame and the fact that I've seen it several times before) surprisingly does not diminish its powerful impact. There is a constant dreaded feeling that something bad is about to happen, and even if you know it's coming, the anticipation remains excruciating.

If I had to pick one element which doesn't quite gel, it would have to be Maurice Jarre's score. Perhaps it's simply a result of the uncool 1980s sound, but the legendary film composer seems to have opted for the melodramatic and the obvious, an orchestration that leaves no doubt that we're watching a thriller.

One never expects an intricate plot from a genre whose main goal is ostensibly to thrill, but nevertheless James Dearden's script is mostly engaging, buoyed by the aforementioned extemporisation from the cast. Still, there's a slightly empty feeling when the film abruptly ends after the main thriller plot is resolved. It's almost as if I wanted to see the resolution of the subplot, but then I realised there was no subplot. I'd even say it was a missed opportunity to actually explore the effect this whole debacle had on Dan's marriage. You know, a bit of substance to go with the thrills.

But what the script lacks in substance, the cast more than makes up for with emotional power. Both leads are utterly superb. Michael Douglas delivers an excellently natural turn as the initially charming, then gradually frustrated and finally fed up adulterer. And it's hard to imagine anyone else but Glenn Close (pictured) in this now iconic role. She is nuanced and intense, vulnerable yet psychotic, the portrait of a disturbed mind. I also enjoyed Stuart Pankin as the jolly best friend. Plus, look closely and you'll see Jane Krakowski as the babysitter in a very brief scene at the beginning of the film.

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