When noted anthropologist Dr. Ethan Powell, who left society to live in the jungle is imprisoned for murder, it's up to young psychiatrist Theo Caulder to get through to him.When noted anthropologist Dr. Ethan Powell, who left society to live in the jungle is imprisoned for murder, it's up to young psychiatrist Theo Caulder to get through to him.When noted anthropologist Dr. Ethan Powell, who left society to live in the jungle is imprisoned for murder, it's up to young psychiatrist Theo Caulder to get through to him.
Hopkins' character, Dr. Ethan Powell, is accused of the murders of several Africans. Having been held in a Rwandan prison for a year, he's then extradited to the U.S. and put in a lovely prison in the insane department. Donald Sutherland (looking mighty fine!) is a noted professor of psychiatry at a nearby University, and Gooding is his pet resident, Dr. Theo Calder. When Sutherland's department is asked by the feds to do a psych evaluation, Gooding as Calder researches the case and begs to be allowed to do the work. Calder has been shown at this point to be a brilliant, ambitious resident with a sterling career ahead, and so Sutherland gives him the chance.
What develops from there is a wonderfully written, exquisitely acted story, interweaving the sessions with Powell and Calder with the life of the prison and its insane inmates. Further woven into the fabric is the story of what happened to Powell in Africa. In the African scenes, Stan Winston's work on the apes is incredibly realistic and never cartoonish. Danny Elfman's score (I don't always like Elfman, but did enjoy the Batman score) is also a beautiful accompaniment to these scenes, though a little heavy in other parts of the film.
It's hard to explain the refreshingly intelligent and moving and thoughtful script of this film. Issues such as what is really civilized behavior, the pack as family mentality, and humanity vs. inhumanity are explored with depth but never with a heavy hand. The performances of Hopkins and Gooding are exceptional. Gooding did a great job with the other film I'd seen him in, JERRY MAGUIRE, but the depths of emotion and the layered aspects of his performance in INSTINCT are incredible.
My friend said after we'd left the theater last night that this came very close to being a Great Film. And she's right. It had a great script and brilliant performances by all, fully realized characters (even the secondary ones), good plot. Where it falls a little, I think, is in the direction. Jon Turteltaub is a competent director who has done films I've enjoyed, such as WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING and PHENOMENON. But in this case, with everything it had going for it, Turteltaub didn't hold the strings tight. The pacing is off in a few places, and a whiff of a subplot involving Gooding's character in a romance with Maura Tierney as Hopkins' daughter fails because you can feel it waffling. Should we leave this subplot in or pull it out? Since they couldn't decide, it leans both ways from scene to scene. This speaks to me of weakness in the director.
But INSTINCT is a very, very good film. Highly recommended. And those of you who are prone to weep, bring your hankies.
- May 14, 1999