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A young and impatient stockbroker is willing to do anything to get to the top, including trading on illegal inside information taken through a ruthless and greedy corporate raider who takes the youth under his wing.
Happily married New York lawyer Dan Callagher has an affair with his colleague Alex, and the two enjoy a love weekend while Dan's wife and kid are away. But Alex will not let go of him, and she will stop at nothing to have him for herself. Just how far will she go to get what she wants? Written by
Sami Al-Taher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Justifiably one of the most talked-about movies ever
There are a handful of movies out there that have become so ingrained in our collective dialogue as an American society, it's practically a crime to have not seen them. If you haven't experienced the joy of Casablanca, you probably haven't seen from where "Here's looking at you, kid" originally came. Ever heard someone make jokes about quarter pounders with cheese in France? That's Pulp Fiction, ladies and gentlemen. Ever have anyone make you an "offer you can't refure?" Well, that person's seen The Godfather. Ever had a former one-night stand try to inflict long-running physical and psychological pain on you and your family? Err...probably not, but if you haven't seen 1987's Fatal Attraction, you're missing out on one of the biggest pop-culture phenomenons of recent decades.
Because of Swimfan and other subpar (but, in Swimfan's case, guiltily entertaining) efforts of tribute and homage, the plot of Fatal Attraction (and maybe even its ending) is obvious before the movie even starts. Adrian Lyne's (last year's magnificent Unfaithful) film is about Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), a New York lawyer with an attractive wife (Anne Archer) and little girl who takes a walk on the wild side one weekend and has a passionate liason with an originally casual acquaintance, Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). Dan wants it all to be over right afterwards, but Alex doesn't let him cut it off that quickly. Dan begins being harrassed by Alex in mounting forms of revenge that eventually reach his family - and become deadly (cheesy writing, huh?). Alex's continual acts of vengeance aren't easy to fight back against, though, for Dan must try to keep his secret from his wife and deal with the moral and legal implications that become increasingly complicated.
If it sounds like a 'typical' movie of that sort, it is. Why? Because it was the prototype for all the rest of them to come. One can't really dock the movie for being the typical "affair goes dead wrong" movie, because it was the first one of its kind that truly perfected the formula. It'd be like saying Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is WAAAAY too much like 10 Things I Hate About You. The thing is, Fatal Attraction really defied the expectations that I had set for it. The movie starts out kind of like Lyne began last year's Unfaithful - happy family together, and the parents getting ready to go out to a soiree. At that evening's party, Dan, while away from his wife, runs into Alex for the first time, and the sparks begin to fly. Now, the movie's title kind of gives away the fact that the woman is going to go completely nuts on him later, but James Dearden's screenplay, and Glenn Close's careful rendering of her character makes Alex a decent person to begin with. I was immediately impressed that Alex isn't some creepy, eccentric vixen that looks like bad news to begin with.
The inevitable begins, and Dan's wife and child must go away for the weekend. Alex turns up at a meeting at Dan's law firm, and shortly thereafter the affair begins. Right before they engage in some of the most protracted and unintentionally funny sex in film history, Lyne gives us an exquisite little scene in a restaurant between Dan and Alex. This is one of the crucial scenes in the film, for it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Unlike Unfaithful, the two don't spend an increasingly longer amount of time with each other and then hastily have sex. Their dialogue right before their first tryst is direct. Like consenting adults, they simply agree that they're going to do it. No dancing around his apartment to sexy jazz music, no braille cookbook seduction. They simply sign a verbal agreement and then go at it on the kitchen sink, complete with running water and Douglas's odd obsession with having Close's breast in his mouth. The rest of their weekend consists of sex, more sex, and even more sex, with the obligatory 'funny scene where they almost get caught doing it in public.' The movie really takes off on it's nail-biting, visceral course when Dan decides he must leave.
The woman goes nuts, and that's an understatement. Calls and unexpected visits occur. Alex calls the house, but just stays silent when Dan's wife answers. Family pets are murdered. The tension mounts unbearably. The whole section of the film leading up to its exciting conclusion really makes an amazing impact. I had a huge list of expectations for what certain things would happen, but most of them didn't. This may be the prototypical erotic revenge thriller, but it certainly jumps over some of its own limitations. Anne Archer, Dan's wife, is an interestingly written character, for she is unsuspecting of it all until, well, until Dan must break down and confess. There is no bra discovered that isn't hers, no story that doesn't check out with someone else, no 'why have you been so distant since that one weekend when I left you completely alone?' All of the tension in the movie lies with what Alex will do next to remind Dan that he can't just let her go. The movie throws out another convention by actually letting Alex meet Dan and his wife in an incredibly uncomfortable scene where Alex slyly obtains their phone number after it has been changed. Fatal Attraction, along with its incredible building suspense, becomes less and less of the cookie-cutter genre film that it's been categorized as. This is in part thanks to amazing work by Close. As the movie's 'villain,' she radiates a dangerous sexuality and inital vulnerability that makes a great combination. Once she goes apes**t on Dan, she's simply a blast to watch. In that 'please let me never cross paths with a woman like her' sense, of course.
I love Fatal Attraction for much of the same reason that I loved Unfaithful. Hidden carefully beneath the movie's "thriller" facade is actually an excellent morality fable. This is hinted at when Alex is introduced as a likeable, sympathetic character, but fully fleshed-out once Dan must go back to his family. Sure, the woman's a freak, but Dan was the one that had the affair with her, so he's somewhat responsible. He told her that things would have to end, but no affair can just be extinguished like that. When he nicely tells her that it can't continue, I actually kind of felt bad for Alex. Sex has an emotional attachment to it that Dan tried to put behind him, but Alex couldn't. There is a crucial plot twist introduced into the film nearly halfway through that I won't reveal here, but it adds most importantly to the whole idea of Dan's moral quandry. At times, I was torn. For a while, Alex is simply a fling that's hanging on and one actually feels sympathy for her somewhat. Sure, it's all dispelled by the end of the film, but for a while the movie really turns the preconceived notions of its characters upside-down. Dan is trying to get back to his family, but isn't he somewhat of a creep for screwing around in the first place? That's the rocky terrain of infidelity, and Lyne's film explores it with an underlying expertise that can be seen through all the knife-weilding and bunny-boiling.
The movie has a handful of truly exciting, somewhat violent scenes that add an extra punch to its escalating progress. At one point, Dan breaks into Alex's apartment and has a violent encounter with her as he tells her to quit messing with his family. Alex enacts schemes of such raw cruelty, it's easy to understand why Dan is scared to death of her. Nothing compares to the movie's violent, bloody finale that has become a movie thriller landmark (one word, guys: catfight). It's truly one of the most well-done and exciting action scenes in film, and it's a bravura closer to a movie that deserves nothing less. Sure, it may not do anything creative to tie up the ends of the movie, but I'm glad Lyne used such an explosive scene. On the Special Edition DVD, an alternate ending can be viewed, and I was disappointed - it may be more creative and mean more in the context of the film (and may be technically better), but I'll stick with punches, guns, and knives for my revenge flick finales any day. Fatal Attraction is and always will be one of the most exciting, nail-bitingly intense, and entertaining movies of all time. It got six Academy Award nominations in 1987, including nods to Glenn Close and Anne Archer AND Best Picture. That's a testament to how much of a phenomenon it was then, but the fact that it stands up so well even today says so much more. GRADE: A-
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