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Fatal Attraction: Special Collector's Edition

Paramount Home Video

Starring Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, and Anne Archer

Written by James Dearden and Nicholas Meyer
Directed by Adrian Lyne

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

"The impact of Fatal Attraction on society, at least in the short run, was like the impact of Jaws on swimming."

— Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D.

In the sweeping Catholic tradition of scaring the bejesus out of potential sinners, Fatal Attraction may well strike the fear of God into any married man contemplating a casual extramarital affair. In addition to its rare function as an admonitory marital aid, Adrian Lyne's 1987 blockbuster is also an expertly executed thriller, and one that never allows its surprisingly effective social context to interfere with its pulpy pulse-raising pleasures.

Despite winning the Oscar for Best Actor that same year for Wall Street, Michael Douglas adrenalyzed his career with this peak performance as Dan Gallagher: a charismatic, easygoing, shallow regular guy whose flawed character runs him into severe trouble with a dominant, psychotic femme fatale — creating a template for the role he would reprise in subsequent hits like The War of the Roses, Basic Instinct, and Disclosure. Dan, a rising lawyer for a New York City firm, has a sweet wife of nine years (Anne Archer) and an adoring daughter of six (Ellen Hamilton Latzen). By all accounts and appearances, he is a hardworking professional and a loving, loyal husband and father. Then he meets Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) and, with the family out-of-town for the weekend, begins an ill-advised relationship that will only bring destruction.

The first great shock of Fatal Attraction is how effortlessly the affair begins. Alex seduces and Dan accepts, without a blink, as if that is simply what rising lawyers with idyllic family lives are supposed to do. As in his profession, Dan is not so concerned with what is right and wrong, but rather what course is available and can be reasonably pursued. He is a morally blank slate, all action and mitigation but no contemplation or reflection. It's a difficult moment for the audience when Dan blissfully cheats, not so much because he is carelessly striking a blow against his wife and daughter, but because he does not do it with malicious intention or under any weight of consequence it is difficult to hate him for doing it. He is like a child, simply oblivious.

Following a passionate weekend together, Dan tells Alex that their relationship cannot practically continue, but Alex, who it turns out is a bit more obsessive than most, does not let him go so easily. And so begins a tense and disturbing series of escalating events not uncommon to the the thriller genre but rarely as well accomplished.

Condemned by feminist groups upon its release, Fatal Attraction actually delivers a severe indictment of men: for their selfish sexual exploitation of women, their ignorant emotional neglect of their wives and children, and their emasculated detachment from their duty to protect. Dan is sexually dynamic and yet impotent in all other facets. Despite the searing critique, Fatal Attraction never comes off as a polemic. Lyne exploits these flaws dramatically, astutely turning the cad into the hero and the victim into the villain, blurring the lines of melodrama and creating strong emotional tension. Alex is both empathetic in her needs and repulsive in her actions, and Close, an odd casting choice (rather than vampishly sexy, she looks more like a disco-era Gibb brother), is brilliant in tiptoeing the line between aggrieved and aggro. Douglas is also superb as aloof Dan faces the harrowing consequences of his pathetic actions with a newly realized sense of conviction and being, and Ellen Hamilton Latzen is refreshingly subtle for a child actor.

Lyne, who is too often fliply discarded as a soft pornographer for mainstream audiences (he also directed Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, Indecent Proposal and the exquisite 1997 adaptation of Lolita), has an elegant style, rarely crossing into typical Hollywood bombast. Although he occasionally loses control, for the most part Fatal Attraction breathes with vitality and verisimilitude. While his film indulges in dollops of sensationally explicit sex and violence, Lyne's vision, in the end, reinforces the idea of family as a strong and valuable unit whose survival is worth fighting for.

As adultery films go, Fatal Attraction would make for a provocative night of cinema preceded by the low-key hand-wringing of Ulu Grosbard's Falling in Love and followed by Stanley Kubrick's haunting, underrated Eyes Wide Shut, a triple feature sure to set most potential philanderers back onto the path of duty.

*          *          *

Paramount's Fatal Attraction: Special Collector's Edition offers some fine supplements to this enduring film. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is good considering the film's graininess in a few scenes, and the audio is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround mixes.

Extra Features

— Gregory P. Dorr

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