Fatal Attraction

Fatal Attraction

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A married man has a one night stand. Afterwards the woman he slept with wants to continue their affair, but he wants nothing to do with her. She stalks him. He tries to keep her secret from his family, but events soon get out of control. Cue knife-wielding histrionics. It's a simple story, familiar in the cinema, but underneath this particular version is a much more complex story struggling to get out.

At the core of Adrian Lyne's sumptuously photographed fable is an encounter with real chemistry and a vital balance that makes us question - if only for brief moments - whose side we should be on. It's this ambiguity that has given it such legendary status, raising it above the average TV movie melodrama and investing it with real emotional power. It's just unfortunate that bad reactions from test audiences, who inevitably prefer to keep things simple, led to the abandonment of a once equally ambiguous ending and allowed the initially unsympathetic male character to emerge as a hero.

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The film's greatest strength is in its casting. Glenn Close may not look like the average Hollywood beauty, but she is consequently much more convincing as a real woman with ordinary vulnerabilities, and her sex scenes with Michael Douglas are sizzling. He makes a convincing everyman and isn't afraid to show a slimy, obsequious side which later develops into callous disregard. As the plot develops, Close proves more than a match for him in terms of intensity, and the audience never dismisses her as a threat simply because she's female - her strength of character makes her physically intimidating too. Douglas matches this with a complex performance which moves flawlessly from presumptious arrogance to anger, frustration and then panic.

Faced with this, Anne Archer struggles to make her presence felt in the role of the jilted wife, which almost gives the impression that the marriage is a side-issue, not really such an important part of the hero's life. Her role is interesting, though, in contrast with Close's - ostensibly she's the woman in the stronger position, the one who has the prize, yet she doesn't have a fraction of that strength of personality and it's clear from both her husband's betrayal and the chaos into which her life then plunges that she has little real control over her existence. This reveals the women as innately limited in their options because of the expectations placed on their sex. It forces the audience to ask how far the spurned lover's behaviour - for all that it might go to extremes - is a reasonable response to an intolerable situation.

By employing extremes, such as the famous bunny boiling sequence which gave rise to a new entry in the lexicon of men like Douglas' character, Lyne gradually tips the balance into more familiar psycho on the loose territory, and thanks to that last-minute choice of ending it stays there. In the meantime, though, there's much to appreciate - an intelligent, well realised story with real passion, genuine scares and superbly drawn characters.

Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2009
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Fatal Attraction packshot
A woman becomes dangerously obsessed when she is ignored by the married man with whom she had a one night stand.
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Director: Adrian Lyne

Writer: James Dearden

Starring: Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Hamilton Latzen

Year: 1987

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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