This was a more controversial movie for Michael Douglas than that of his adulterous character in Fatal Attraction or his greedy corporate raider of Wall Street (both 1987). Douglas plays homicide detective Nick Curran, investigating the murder of a rock star in San Francisco. This was also, of course, a bit like coming home for Douglas, who had co-starred with Karl Malden on popular 1970s' TV series The Streets Of San Francisco (and oddly enough, his policeman character in Ridley Scott's 1998 thriller Black Rain was named Nick Conklin). The big controversy began even before Basic Instinct went into production when the script by Joe Eszterhas, Hollywood's auteur screenwriter of the yuppie era (see Jagged Edge, 1985), was - practically - auctioned for a record $3 million!
Much of this US film by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven is clearly inspired by Hitchcock, especially Vertigo (1959), and the traditions of film noir. Cast as the ultimate blonde femme fatale, Sharon Stone is sensational as rich pulp novelist Catherine Tramell, the bisexual adventuress suspected of mutilating her former boyfriend with an ice pick. Is she the killer? First, the cops think she is because the murder is accurately described in one of her books, but then doubts are raised when her polygraph tests indicate she's not guilty.
Douglas' troubled cop, Nick, can't make up his mind about her, though, when he learns that she's anything but 'innocent'. She flirts outrageously with him and she enjoys mind games (Catherine's defiant foiling of her interrogation by a roomful of sweaty cops is one of cinema's greatest sexually provocative sequences), not to mention sadomasochistic sex, drugs, and the company of violent ex-convicts... in no particular order. Hounded by Internal Affairs for a recent shooting tragedy, Nick finds himself being written into Catherine's latest crime story, and drawn inexorably into her world of twisted voyeurism, lazy exhibitionism, infuriatingly crude challenges ("Have you ever fucked on cocaine, Nick?") and unabashed decadence.
The supporting cast are well chosen. As Nick's only friend on the police force, George Dzundza is colourful and garrulous as Gus, while stage-trained actress Jeanne Tripplehorn makes her big screen debut here as Doctor Beth Garner, the psychiatrist with a secret past. Watch for Mitch Pileggi (now a big TV star thanks to The X-Files) playing one of the IA officers interrogating Nick.
Aligned with the carefully plotted intrigues of postmodern schlock-busters, Eszterhas' script explores his now familiar concerns of sex, romance, and betrayal with layers of ambiguity and coincidence. This is, in part, a film of male weakness and female power. Did she... will she? Should he... can he? The cops want to know what's in Catherine's heart, and what's on her mind, but instead she shows 'reveals' only her sex. Basic Instinct does not always make logical sense, but it is - undeniably - an emotional rollercoaster.
The special edition DVD is a two-disc package. The main disc has two audio commentaries, one by director Verhoeven with cinematographer Jan De Bont, and a second offering a brilliant analysis by feminist critic Camille Paglia. There's also scene indexing in 33 chapters, and animated menus using an ice block motif. The extras disc has a very worthwhile making-of documentary, Blonde Poison (25 minutes), a promo featurette (six minutes), a montage of TV dubbing censorship in Cleaning Up Basic Instinct (five minutes), study of three scenes in storyboard comparisons, fascinating screen test footage of actresses Stone and Tripplehorn, a photo gallery - wisely using the whole TV screen frame (other DVD authoring companies take note!), and trailers.