Fatal Attraction is an example of a movie with a terrific set-up that fails to deliver. It’s a shame, because going into this movie I was pretty excited for it. In the end though, despite decent performances and impressive technical aspects, the film sells out its potentially thought-provoking premise in a rather standard action based second-half.
Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is a happily successful lawyer whose life is completely ruined by a one-night stand with a colleague, Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). He warns her that he is married, but Alex gets too attached nevertheless. After revealing that she is pregnant, she starts insinuating herself into Dan’s life, causing danger to him, his wife Beth (Anne Archer), and their daughter Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Latzen).
This film is really frustrating, because it starts out so well. Everything is set up for a really interesting investigation into these characters, and how much claim to someone’s attention another deserves. Unfortunately, the film writes off Alex as a crazy monster and doesn’t bother to try and reveal why she’s doing what she’s doing. There are conversations between Dan and Alex that could have lead somewhere interesting, but instead just result in violent acts on Alex’s part. Likewise, when Dan reveals to Beth that he cheated on her, she just gets mad and they never have a serious adult conversation about what’s going on, and their feelings are not revealed in any other way either. They both just focus on Alex, which I suppose is understandable, but they never really go into Dan’s breach of trust and what they means for their marriage, which is unfortunate because it would have given the characters and the film more depth.
One of the reasons the lack of character depth is so frustrating is because the cast does a fantastic job at bringing these characters to life. This would be all the more appreciated if we knew more about them. Close’s Alex is most certainly lonely and desperate, and her believable performance even when Alex is doing unbelievable things only has us wanting to know why that much more. Similarly, Dan is given almost no reason to cheat on his wife. We see how he gets drawn into it, and it seems believable, but it would still help to know why he allows himself to do this. Has he cheated in the past, or is he just weak? Unclear.
Nevertheless, the film is shot wonderfully. The end in particular, which I would have taken far less issue with if the lead up had involved more understanding of the characters, is a fitting homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho. The only real problem with it is that there are at least three times when we think a character is dead, only to have them turn up again like some sort of supernatural being. It is shot so well (and invokes Hitchcock) that I can’t really complain. Without giving too much away, it takes place in the bathroom and the editing is very similar to the shower scene in Psycho. Things are consistently kept visually interesting even though we have little reason to connect with these characters. Much of the film is photographed in sort of a rosey light, contrasting ominously with the film’s dark subject matter.
Fatal Attraction is a good movie, but could have been a great one if the writers had just fleshed out the characters more. The actors are more than up to the challenge, and the whole film would have been more compelling if it had given reasons for why characters are doing things, rather then making them stereotypes. Still, the film is shot and edited exceptionally, and the film is enjoyable, if frustratingly so.
“Why? Because I won’t allow you treat me like some slut you can just bang a couple of times and throw in the garbage?”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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