Paul Verhoeven is a much maligned director, in great part due to the train wreck that was Show Girls. While that movie was utter shit, it shouldn't result in Verhoeven's body of work being discounted. This is the man behind such undisputed classics as Robocop and Total Recall. In my mind though Basic Instinct is his masterpiece and over 20 years later its easy to see why.
Erotic Thrillers as a sub genre get more shit than they deserve. And while there are scores of late night cable skin flicks that create this image, it shouldn't discount the solid entries the genre has produced. If you look beyond the nudity, the essence of the erotic thriller is film noir. The basic template of the genre comes from the nearly flawless 1950 Bogart flick in a Lonely Place. I say nearly flawless because no film ever needed to adress the sexual relationship between the two leads more. Instead their is a hokey scene and a subtle implication Bogart spent the night.
Catherine Tramell is the greatest femme fatal ever. While some may look at Stone's performance as hoeky now, it only comes off that way because it has been imitated ad nauseam. Tramell is sexy, smart and dangerous. One of the greatest keys to this is that it is NEVER clear she is the killer. While some see the infamous leg crossing scene as gratuitous nudity, it is a plot point, and a clever one at that. Michael Douglas' Nick Curran is another great archetype from the pulp error. Smart, reckless yet with a very clear personal code of conduct.
Paul Verhoeven's direction is top notch, owing much to Hitchcok. While some may whine about the sexuality on display, and as puriant as it is, the sex scenes in the film are also about suspense and character development. Nick and Catherine's big scene was nearly shot for shot like the opening murder, and Nick's rape of Jeanne Tripplehorn's Beth Garner shows both his repressed darkness, and implies a great deal about who she is.
When Paul Verhoeven submitted the film for a rating it was awarded an NC-17 and among a list of cuts, two major trims took place that I think bare a special look at. The first was an orgasm from the female murder in the opening. The second and most telling was the cunilingus between Nick and Catherine. In the theatrical version she goes down on him with reciprocating. Jerry Goldsmith's score also deserves a little extra recognition, with a great theme that haunts the images onscreen.
Basic Instinct represents the pinnacle of big screen erotic thrillers, and the film had an incredible impact that can be felt to this day, think of nearly ever drama on Premium cable for starters.
With a big screen version of 50 Shades of Gray on the way, I'd like to look back to 1992, when a blockbuster could have a sexually dominant woman in the lead.