1 item from 1999
Bankable director Jon Turteltaub ("Phenomenon", "While You Were Sleeping") goes for a risky change of pace with "Instinct", an involving anthropological thriller that shares more than just a few behavioral traits with "Silence of the Lambs", not to mention "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Gorillas in the Mist".
Despite the familiar pedigree, the picture still succeeds on its own accomplished merits thanks to intelligent scripting, insightful direction and a pair of masterful performances by Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Still, given the quieter tone and darker subject matter, plus the lack of a Travolta or Bullock, "Instinct" might have a tricky time fending for itself in the crowded summer boxoffice jungle.
There's more than an initial glimmer of Hannibal Lecter in Hopkins' Ethan Powell, a brilliant primatologist who ostensibly went mad after living in the wild with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and killed two park rangers.
Now back on American soil and incarcerated in a brutal, rundown prison for the criminally insane, the silent Powell seems to have all the communication skills of a dangerous, caged animal.
But ambitious psychiatric resident Theo Caulder (Gooding) isn't so sure. Sensing that a breakthrough with Powell could be just the high-profile case needed to advance his career, he persuades his mentor, Ben Hillard (Donald Sutherland) to let him evaluate Powell's condition.
During their tension-ridden interrogation sessions, Caulder eventually makes inroads. But in their tautly calibrated cat-and-mouse relationship, their roles are often reversed and the personal costs are greater than either man has realized.
Hopkins and Gooding make terrific sparring partners. Hopkins, who came on board after the role was vacated by Sean Connery, does some powerfully understated work here as the physically intimidating Powell.
Gooding, affecting a wisp of a speaking voice, really gets under the skin of his character -- a smart, driven, but emotionally cut-off individual who may have gotten in over his head here but is determined to see the case through.
While this intense two-hander serves as the picture's raison d'etre, there's also strong supporting work from the always reliable Sutherland, George Dzundza as a sympathetic but ineffectual prison doctor and John Ashton as the requisite sadistic guard.
As Powell's estranged daughter, Lyn, lone female Maura Tierney does what she can with an underwritten afterthought of a role.
Taking his time to establish the right pace, Turteltaub may have sacrificed some early potential audience-grabbers, but once the film settles into the Powell-Caulder confrontations, the viewer ultimately becomes hooked. Screenwriter Gerald DiPego, who also penned "Phenomenon", sets up some rich parallels between the imprisoned Powell and the animals that he has devoted his life to studying.
Director of photography Philippe Rousselot ("A River Runs Through It", ) expertly moves from uncomfortably tight close-ups to breathtaking mountainous terrains. Editor Richard Francis-Bruce ("The Shawshank Redemption") gives it all a subtly propulsive momentum.
As for the gorillas themselves, special effects veteran Stan Winston does some reasonably convincing work, although even the most modern of technologies have yet to replicate the life force that exists in the eyes of The Real Thing sufficiently to make you forget about the guys in suits.
Composer Danny Elfman, meanwhile, contributes a fittingly moody score, but there are times when its insistent restlessness makes you want to reach for the tranquilizer gun.
A Touchstone Pictures/Spyglass Entertainment production
Credits: Director: Jon Turteltaub; Screenwriter: Gerald DiPego; Suggested by the novel "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn; Producers: Michael Taylor, Barbara Boyle; Executive producers: Wolfgang Petersen, Gail Katz; Director of photography: Philippe Rousselot; Production designer: Garreth Stover; Editor: Richard Francis-Bruce; Costume designer: Jill Ohanneson; Special character effects: Stan Winston; Casting: Renee Rousselot; Cast: Ethan Powell: Anthony Hopkins; Theo Caulder: Cuba Gooding Jr.; Ben Hillard: Donald Sutherland; Lyn Powell: Maura Tierney; Dr. John Murray: George Dzundza; Guard Dacks: John Ashton; Warden Keefer: John Aylward Running time -- 123 minutes; MPAA rating: R
1 item from 1999
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