FILMS

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

FATAL ATTRACTION Directed by Adrian Lyne

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE September 21 1987
FILMS

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

FATAL ATTRACTION Directed by Adrian Lyne

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE September 21 1987

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

FILMS

FATAL ATTRACTION Directed by Adrian Lyne

If looks could kill, publishing executive Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) would be a public menace. A central character in the sleek and sometimes scary Fatal Attraction, she becomes attracted to lawyer Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) at a book launch party. When Gallagher’s friend Jimmy (Stuart Pankin) smiles at her, she returns a withering glance. Her eyes are alluring yet dangerous, and it is a tribute to Close’s acting gifts that she can communicate so much so quickly. A few days later, after she and Gallagher meet for a drink, she seduces him. But that proves to be a one-night stand that the happily married Gallagher will never forget. Alex presses him to get together again soon. Then she begins to bother his family, and the story turns nightmarish.

Fatal Attraction is essentially a movie of character studies, whose capacity to terrorize becomes clear only in the final scene. Although James Dearden’s script furnishes little information about Alex, Close offers a virtuoso portrait of an unstable, pathetically lonely woman. As Gallagher, Douglas conveys a credible fear of a woman capable of throwing acid on his car, murdering the family’s pet and kidnapping his daughter, Ellen (Ellen Hamilton Lätzen), for an afternoon. And Anne Archer shines in the thankless role of a wife profoundly wounded by her husband’s infidelity.

But director Adrian Lyne (Flashdance, 9V2 Weeks) spends most of his time trying to impress the audience with the Gallagher family’s decency. The characters lack depth, and the sto> ry, needing more nastiness, offers few surprises. Lyne gives the film his usual commercial gloss—the sex scenes have the same heated intensity as those between Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke in 9V2 Weeks. And the sex in Fatal Attraction is never far removed from violence: in fact, it culminates in a graphic physical fight between Close and Douglas. But once Alex begins to terrorize Gallagher—claiming that he has made her pregnant—the movie takes on a dull doggedness. Had Gallagher found himself disturbed or intrigued by his sexual encounter with Alex, the movie could have explored the thrilling complexity of a couple’s erotic obsession. Instead it is merely a turgid tale of a crazy woman giving a nice guy and his family a hard time.

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE

MAURICE

Directed by James Ivory

British novelist E.M. Forster wrote his semi-autobiographical novel Maurice in 1914, but it was only published, posthumously, in 1971. Forster had ordered that it be suppressed because of its subject—homosexuality. When it was written, homosexuality was a crime in Britain. In adapting it for the screen, director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant—the team responsible for the 1985 film version of Forster’s A Room with a View—have created a handsome, leisurely and ultimately touching film.

Maurice Hall (James Wilby), a shy student at Oxford, becomes attracted to the supercilious Clive Durham (Hugh Grant).

Seduced and then rejected by Clive, Maurice still remains his friend and is a constant visitor at the Durham estate.

There, he falls in love with Clive’s gamekeeper, Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves).

Flouting class and moral conventions, he finally finds an inner peace.

Seven decades later that tale of Edwardian England has lost much of its power to shock. But Maurice is a valuable document, a reminder that a particular sexual persuasion was once regarded as “an evil hallucination,” as Hall’s family physician, Dr. Barry (Denholm Elliott), puts it.

At one point, Maurice seeks the services of an American hypnotist, Lasker-Jones (Ben Kingsley), who suggests that fresh air and exercise might make the young man more interested in women. But Lasker-Jones also remarks, “England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.” Indeed, the country would no more accept his sexual preference than it would condone publication of Maurice during Forster’s lifetime.

Like A Room With a View, Maurice is rich in lush photography and tasteful-

ly appointed sets. And its British actors are the last word in proper elocution. But some of the pacing—even for a stately literary adaptation—is at times stultifying: the 135-minute-long movie could comfortably lose 20 minutes. It is only when Maurice resolves his feelings with the openhearted Scudder that real spontaneity bursts through. When they meet secretly under Clive’s nose at his country estate, their encounters have an almost unbearable erotic tension—and the whiplash sting of reality played out in the dark. Those scenes, for the audience as for Maurice himself, are moments of grace.

A PRAYER FOR THE DYING

Directed by Mike Hodges

Adapted from Jack Higgins’s bestseller of the same name, A Prayer for the Dying is a perverse mixture of gangster film, existential religious drama and pitch-black comedy. Its hero, Martin Fallon (Mickey Rourke), is a disenchanted IRA terrorist who flees to England, only to be hunted down by his own people for deserting the cause. But for Fallon, who has accidentally bombed a school bus filled with children, killing has become senseless and life has lost its meaning. The movie features nasty characters, juicy performances and wholesale religious angst. Although each element in Prayer keeps working against the others, there is never a boring moment. Rourke effectively disassociated himself from the first edited version of the film, and the director, Mike Hodges, disowned the studio’s final cut. But the movie does not bear the marks of undue tampering and plays all of a piece.

To obtain a fake passport and travelling money, Fallon grudgingly agrees to murder a man for Jack Meehan

(Alan Bates), a gangster who runs a funeral home as a front. But someone witnesses the crime—a priest, Father Da Costa (Bob Hoskins). To prevent the priest from identifying him, Fallon admits to the murder in Da Costa’s own confessional —knowing that priests are sworn to silence by their vows. Later, to protect himself, Meehan decides to kill them both. Meanwhile, Fallon falls in love with the priest’s blind niece, Anna (Sammi Davis). The film is so exaggerated that the viewer half expects to see the Virgin Mary before the finish.

In fact, there is no shortage of religious symbolism. In one memorable scene, a character falls from a church ceiling and clings to a giant crucifix on his way down. In another scene, Meehan’s henchmen crucify a man by driving screwdrivers through his hands, pinning him to a wall. Hoskins, playing a priest with a violent past, looks absurd in a cassock. But because he plays the part seriously, his character is all the funnier. And Bates, as the gangster for whom death is something of a hobby, is fussily, hilariously sinister. But behind the excess there lurks a dark message. At one point, Rourke, standing in a pulpit, tells the priest, “We are fundamentally alone—nothing lasts—and there is no purpose to anything.” By the time A Prayer for the Dying is over, nobody will want to argue the point.

-L. O’T.