In his Hollywood years, Paul Verhoeven has been able to make some of the smartest social satires of the period through science fiction but he comes back to a sense of what had defined him during his years making films in the Netherlands through Basic Instinct. With Basic Instinct he returns to a form that has defined him during his early years but even here his biting satire can still be felt in a most unexpected sense. If something were to stand out about Paul Verhoeven, there’s an incredible feeling of self-awareness lurking within his work that never feels afraid to lash out at one. If there were much to say about said power, it gives his own work a delicious taste and a certain exotic quality becomes all the more abundant there. At times I think I underestimate my love of Paul Verhoeven but I can never help it.
Verhoeven’s third film in Hollywood after RoboCop and Total Recall moves away from the world of science fiction but offers a spin on a Hitchcockian thriller. Michael Douglas stars as detective Nick Curran as he investigates the brutal murder of a rock star and gets tied up with the prime suspect at large, author Catherine Tramell. Catherine Tramell is played by Sharon Stone, taking on the seductive femme fatale role but there’s something all the more devilish coming about with how Paul Verhoeven lays everything on the table. On one hand he seems to have a grasp on what Hitchcock was fascinated with and at the same time there’s an evident love for classic film-noir present within the structure of events but there’s something all the more clever arising at the hands of director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.
Basic Instinct feels attuned to its love of classic Hollywood noir but Paul Verhoeven carries a satirical approach that allows something even more enticing to rise. There was a sense of sleaziness that defines a Paul Verhoeven movie and knowing his tendency not to hold back on the graphic nature – almost playing in a sense like he is aware of what his viewers would desire from how environments set scenes up and soon a certain fear is churned out. It comes out in such a superb fashion thanks to how Paul Verhoeven tricks the viewers straight up, but as perversions become clearer there’s a payoff that only ever so feels fitting with the nature of the film. Everything about Basic Instinct is seductive within itself, ranging from the cinematography to the erotica coming into play, but the assertion it lays out is a different story altogether.
On occasion the dialogue is spotty but there’s an incredible sense of self-awareness on Paul Verhoeven’s end that allows the delivery to find itself rising to a more tasteful degree. It starts only from the perfect casting of Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, two figures caught up in a web of deceit. The two make an excellent pairing together and under a certain gloss to the atmosphere present, it evokes a mood akin to Brian De Palma during his own Hitchcockian years before it lashes out a certain perversity during the outcome. There’s an empowering effect that comes about as a result of the desires that would be set up, and Paul Verhoeven allows everything to feel tasteful even in the most depraved sequences of the film whether they go from the graphically violent opening or the infamous interrogation scene. Verhoeven knows how to fuel desire, but at the same time a satire of this lust is felt all throughout.
With the graphic display of sexuality and violence, it’s easy to look upon how Verhoeven lays out both to deliver power over desire. This deceit only shows the weaknesses arising from one’s desire especially when they are brought out to an uncontrollable degree but soon enough what one sees is only a layer untouched. Digging deeper, Verhoeven feeds a desire to the point of weakness, then soon enough he unleashes a level of ferocity. Everything feels played by the manipulator, just as Michael Douglas himself is being deceived wherever he goes. Yet Douglas never finds himself inside of a glorified light given the past his character has gone through, but the downward spiral he finds himself dragged into is nevertheless a compelling one: and one that moves almost in a manner that it feeds into what some would want most.
Basic Instinct is high-octane sleaze, but never is it not fun. On one layer it’s an erotic thriller that understands the bases of what one desires most from seeing out of a film with such an appearance, but the moment it lashes it turns itself into a satire: the sort that Verhoeven’s science fiction works had always been known for. On some occasions predictable but never in a sense it detracts from the experience, rather instead only leaving the very rest of what is set to come untouched. Basic Instinct may not be Paul Verhoeven at his best, but it works up the viewer’s senses almost like a Hitchcock film. Vertigo is one that comes to mind especially in showing consequences from the male gaze, but with Basic Instinct, it feels like a tasteful form of revenge. And in such a fashion from Paul Verhoeven, it is always glorious.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via TriStar Pictures.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Screenplay by Joe Eszterhas
Produced by Alan Marshall
Starring Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn
Release Year: 1992
Running Time: 128 minutes