We all know the famous shot. The one involving Sharon Stone in an interrogation room. At times, its notoriety precedes the film itself, but that’s not fair. 1992’s Basic Instinct is good in its own right.
The movie opens with a gratuitous sex scene where rock star Johnny Boz gets brutally murdered with an ice pick by a mysterious blonde woman. We then see the crime scene being investigated by a slew of detectives. Leading the case is Detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), who suspects Boz’s girlfriend, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), to be the killer. She’s an author who wrote a novel years ago describing a murder of a rock star exactly as Boz is murdered. But why would she be so stupid to write about a crime that she would later commit, herself? Or is that the alibi she wants? Either way, Catherine is the murderer or she’s being framed by someone else. To make things more interesting, this isn’t the first murder to be carried out exactly as one of her books describes.
Nick is determined to figure this whole thing out. Catherine happens to know a lot about him and claims that her next novel is going to be about a detective who gets murdered. Catherine’s the kind of crazy that you can never see coming. She always has everything planned ten moves ahead and she has an obsession with killers. But is she a brilliant criminal or is she just crazy?
Nick decides to pursue Catherine and insert himself into her life. The two begin a love affair and Nick begins to think she’s innocent the more he comes to understand her. He has his own baggage, too. He accidentally shot two tourists while high on cocaine during an undercover assignment, and he still struggles with substance abuse and a temper.
There are so many fun surprises along the way that simply should not be spoiled. Twists and turns that all check out and have justification, rather than manufactured and gratuitous.
Director Paul Verhoeven does something interesting as he strings us along basically alluding to Catherine being the killer the entire time. Even before we meet her, we think she’s the killer. As we get to know her, our growing tensions are cultivated with this in the back of our minds. It makes every moment more suspenseful, more tense. But as we see things through Nick’s eyes, we start to second guess ourselves. Maybe there is somebody else doing all the work after all.
This film is Verhoeven’s best. Perhaps because he’s finally working with a great script. Stuck right between 1990’s Total Recall and 1995’s Showgirls, which draw similar comparisons to each other, Basic Instinct feels like it’s never even met those other two. It’s smart, well acted, and the characters are only over-the-top when they need to be.
There is one point where Verhoeven gets caught succumbing to cheap tricks. The entire movie we see things only from Nick’s point of view. He’s our one perspective and makes us question his reliability at times. It’s a device that allows Basic Instinct to surpass all of its unbelievable plot points and fantastical sequences by letting us to see everything. But where our director drops the ball is the very end, when he allows the film to break its perspective once and only once. He does it to reveal something big, but this not only undermines every bit of credibility built up prior, but separates us from our protagonist. Verhoeven could have very easily made it so Nick saw what the audience saw, but the temptation of a cliffhanger was far too great for the director to pass up.
Overall, Basic Instinct is a fantastic thriller, captivating us at every turn and we absolutely can’t look away. Despite the questionable ending, the film still sets us up for dozens of theories that take us down an internet forum rabbit hole. Thanks, Reddit!