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PAGE TO SCREEN : A Mere Thriller

Michael Crichton is the master, if not the creator, of what might be called the socio-techno-thriller. It consists of one part jargon to two parts intrigue, with a healthy dose of hot button issues and reactionary politics.

In his most recent novel, “Disclosure,” the issue is sexual harassment, and the treatment, as usual, is nothing if not provocative: The aggressor boss is a woman (Meredith Johnson), and the victim underling is a man (Tom Sanders). Pushing this premise to its logical conclusion, Tom rebuffs Meredith’s overtures and she retaliates by claiming that he harassed her--a claim made all the more believable by the fact that they were once lovers. As Crichton says in his afterword, “the advantage of a role reversal story is that it may enable us to examine aspects concealed by traditional responses and conventional rhetoric.”

Actually, “Disclosure” does no such thing. The point is made that harassment is about power rather than sex, but the complicated politics between men and women is nowhere explored, except by solo turns from a few minor characters. In fact, what the case really boils down to is a plot device. Meredith is not harassing Tom out of a need to control or humiliate or validate but rather to divert his attention from other, more pedestrian, improprieties. Crichton has broken new ground by turning sexual harassment into a red herring.

Wisely, the makers of “Disclosure” the movie, which opened December 9, have sought to downplay this narrative strategy. Instead, they focus on the high tech milieu, the setting is a computer company and on Tom’s attempts to clear his name and contain the damage to his family. To that end, the filmmakers have written Tom’s wife back into the story. Originally, she and their two kids are packed off while he tries to sort out this mess. Now she stays to witness the various humiliations visited on Tom, most notably a mediation hearing that milks his complicity for all its worth.

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This scene also dramatizes another crucial difference between book and movie. Tom is guilty. That is to say, he’s guilty of an everyday sort of harassment, an overeasy familiarity with his secretary (he likes to smack her on the rump). In Michael Douglas, they’ve found the perfect actor for his slightly darker Tom. Audiences will pull for him despite his flaws because he’s essentially likable. If anything, Douglas’s Tom is a more plausible victim than Crichton’s because he’s less of an innocent.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers have not come up with a plausible character for Meredith (played by Demi Moore), although this really doesn’t matter. The book, with its social agendas, stumbles into misogyny by making Meredith a ball buster without making her a person first. The movie, which has very few such pretensions, is merely a thriller with a seductive and highly entertaining villain. Apparently, however, Warner Bros., the studio releasing “Disclosure,” doesn’t want to hear these kinds of comparisons. They wouldn’t let the Book Review within a mile of the movie or its makers.


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