Fatal Attraction (1987) / Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, nudity, violence and language
Running time: 119 min.
Cast: Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Stuart Pankin, Ellen Foley, Fred Gwynne
Cameo: Jane Krakowski, Jonathan Brandis
Director: Adrian Lyne
Screenplay: James Dearden
Review published October 15, 2007
This modern rehash of Eastwood's Play Misty for Me would go on to be the second highest-grossing film of 1987 in the US (bested narrowly by 3 Men and a Baby). It would instantly make "fatal attraction" a household phrase for those who have dangerous sexual or romantic obsessions with those they are infatuated with. Director Adriane Lyne (Flashdance, Indecent Proposal) depicts the flip side of his previous film, 9 1/2 Weeks, by showing the dangers of engaging in a sexual affair with the wrong kind of person, leading to a potential lifetime of misery for a few minutes of pleasure.
Michael Douglas (Romancing the Stone, The Star Chamber) stars as legal expert Dan Gallagher, a loyal husband and loving father, at least so far. His good husband streak comes to a halt when he meets the alluring Alex Forrest (Close, Reversal of Fortune), with whom he has an unmistakable mutual attraction, which is consummated when Dan's wife Beth (Archer, Hero at Large) and daughter are out of town for the weekend. Though Dan enjoys the experience, he doesn't think it wise to continue the affair, as he doesn't want to lose the relationship with his supportive and loving wife. Unfortunately, Alex feels differently, wanting to remain a part of his life in some way, not willing to be shut out completely. The more Dan tries to close the door, the more Alex is willing to break it down, leading to several altercations and dangerous events that transpire that threaten to ruin both of them unless something drastic occurs.
It would prove the most defining role in Glenn Close's very respectable career, deftly showing sex appeal, vulnerability and deadly danger, often simultaneously. Although she remains the villain of the piece, she isn't without some sympathy, as she pathetically tries to achieve a happiness that remains always forbidden, though it is always seemingly within her grasp. The result is a cracking of her psyche that one can only wonder could have been prevented with some sort of intervention, but we're never quite shown whether she has any friends or family that can keep her grounded (the only allusion to any is the untimely death of her father at an early age, presumably giving a hint as to her fear of abandonment).
Douglas continues his long line of roles involving successful men caught in a tightening vice that threatens to undo everything he has built up. He plays this kind of role better than anyone, so it's no surprise he delivers quite well. Archer is perfectly cast as the good wife -- intelligent, attractive, kind and loyal. Nothing is exotic about her, but it's clear to see why Gallagher would do anything not to lose what he has. Lyne's handling of child actor Latzen is pure perfection, as she embodies not a trace of typical Movie Kid cloying cuteness that so very much permeates Hollywood productions.
Although not the first of its breed, Fatal Attraction's overwhelming success kick started a wave of suburban thrillers that dominated box offices for the next several years, although most ramped up the tawdry sex or over-the-top violence to the point where they couldn't be taken seriously. Although Fatal Attraction does go overboard in a few memorable scenes, it never quite breaks suspension of disbelief, even when Lyne lets it all rip in a frantic confrontation at the end (reportedly re-shot for audience approval) that commands your attention, even if it feels a bit inconsistent with the rest of the film's tone
Perhaps it is all a worst case scenario, but if there's ever a movie that captures the ultimate nightmare of what could happen when a man in a good marriage goes astray, this is the quintessential example. Despite its 6 Academy Award nominations (Including Best Picture), Fatal Attraction may not be deserving of some of the highest accolades it achieved in its ride to popularity, but it is well developed, acted, directed, and executed, and it certainly does push all of the right buttons to keep you reeled in from start to finish. It does go off the deep end a bit with its borderline slasher movie ending, but it still pays off (albeit with high overhead) thanks to the quality of the characterizations up to that point. Although meant purely as entertainment, it does provide a memorable cautionary tale for husbands with wandering eyes.
©2007 Vince Leo