In “Fatal Attraction,” (citywide) sex is power, sex is style--but mad love is the great destroyer. This movie--an exciting New York thriller, soaked in chic--is built on the premise that casual sex, lovemaking without bonds or real feeling, can lead to psychopathology.
In the film, an over-30 publishing executive named Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) has a one-night stand with a happily married lawyer, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), whose wife (Anne Archer) is briefly out of town. Initially, it seems a happy encounter, but something about Gallagher sets Alex off. She becomes violently offended by insignificant slights, and attempts suicide when he tries to leave. In both cases Gallagher, a basically decent guy, tries to care for her, calm her down. In both cases, she apologizes. Then, she starts up again.
Soon it’s clear that nothing will mollify Alex. She calls his office, calls his home: her manner alternately sweet and wheedling, cold and furious--and, eventually, the fury takes over. Gallagher, desperate, trying to conceal the affair’s aftermath from his wife, seals himself in a cul-de-sac of evasions; Alex keeps battering away at it. She stalks him, proclaims herself pregnant, invades his home. She becomes wild, uncompromising: a true obsessive, a romantic running amok. Nothing will make her stop.
This story unwinds in Adrian Lyne country, fashionable Manhattan: backlit, dazzlingly decorated and swimming in chi-chi color and swank accouterments. These people live well, play well. Or, at least, Gallagher does: His Upper West Side apartment is full of rich knickknacks, high-tech appliances and high-style furnishings. Alex lives in a loft near the meat-packing district--nearly barren, surrounded by sinister wet streets--as if she were a bohemian who hadn’t shaken the ‘60s. She may be trapped in a response that was always mingled love-hate; both yearning for and despising the security that Gallagher--the lawyer and liar--represents.
Glenn Close is infernally brilliant as Alex. Here, cold witchery seems to dance around her frizzy mane and athletic legs. The alternately wary and rapacious glint in her eyes hints that she’s been adventuress and victim--just as her incessant playing of the “Madama Butterfly” finale suggests a murderous sentimentality. This is the most dangerous kind of role for an actor. Yet, however near the edge Close goes--right up to the movie’s misbegotten climax--she cuts so close to the bone that every emotion stays in focus.
Douglas--selflessly playing a weak-kneed, likable guy appalled by the passion he’s aroused--complements her superbly. They’re both so good--and Lyne has given them such a gaudy, exciting backdrop--that this movie’s last 15 minutes become almost madly frustrating.
“Fatal Attraction” probably never could have achieved the power and complexity of great films on romantic obsession like Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” or Truffaut’s “The Story of Adele H.” But, by the end, it’s headed in the opposite direction; someone has decided to turn it into “Halloween in Westchester” or “Friday the Yuppie 13th.” The cynical might feel that “someone” is Adrian Lyne himself--descending back to the level of those Balducci orgies in the stateside version of “9 1/2 Weeks.” But Lyne’s direction here is the tightest and most effective of his career; the grotesque, botched climax, conversely, has a definite aroma of “marketing research.” You’d like to believe it was done despite the film makers and actors.
James Dearden’s icily well-crafted script was based on his short film “Diversion” and his story’s pleasures come from the fact that Alex and Dan are both drawn well enough to divide our sympathies. For about 90% of the running time, we’re watching something near a real psychological thriller: a story whose shocks come not from Grand Guignol or violent action, but the psychological clashes. There’s a genuine conflict here: Gallagher accepts his life and boundaries; Alex can’t. And though she may be close to crazy, she’s still expressing her own principle. To reject her position summarily is to risk rejecting the validity of passion, even unreasonable passion. To side unequivocally with Gallagher, as we’re asked to do at the end, is to validate the safe, facile evasions of his world.
The ending is bad precisely because it subverts everything the story and the actors have built up previously. The holy wars of bloody movie revenge take over, and even if this climax works for a mass audience--maybe it will--it comes close to sabotaging both the movie and Close’s almost-great performance.
Close but not completely. Ninety percent of a good movie is better than 90% of a bad one--and, for most of “Fatal Attraction” (MPAA-rated R: for sex, language, violence) we’re kept in a glossy grip. Passion, obsession, mad love, the violent clash of insider and outsider--all these themes, plus the performances, are rich enough to carry us past that wounded climax, if not to carry the movie past the fatal attractions of the big box-office cliche. ‘FATAL ATTRACTION’
A Paramount Pictures presentation of a Jaffe/Lansing production. Producers Stanley Jaffe, Sherry Lansing. Director Adrian Lyne. Script James Dearden. Music Maurice Jarre. Camera Howard Atherton. Production design Mel Bounre. Editors Michael Kahn, Peter E. Berger. With Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, Stuart Pankin.
Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes.
MPAA rating: R (younger than 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian).