To me, Fatal Attraction seemed to be another superfluous sexual-thriller film that ended up on the list, a genre that has been explored several times by other entries dating back practically to the silent era. Nevertheless, I knew I had to get through it, and even though I expected it to be a pretty good film, what with being nominated for Best Picture and all, I still had this unsettling expectation that the film would be largely forgettable after I’d seen it. Well, now that I have, I can’t say with certainty whether or not this one will stick with me; it did largely meet my expectations without really exceeding them. But I still enjoyed what this had to offer, regardless of its staying power, so maybe the film can be called a success in that way.
Dan Gallagher is a lawyer living in New York City, with a wife, Beth, and daughter, Ellen. When his wife and daughter take a trip to visit relatives, Dan finds himself engaged in an affair with Alex Forrest, a career woman he met at a business party. Once the family is back in the picture, however, Dan wants his actions to remain where they should be; in the past. Needless to say, Alex doesn’t take kindly to that, and develops an unhealthy obsession over Dan that begins to border on the homicidal. First off, I’d previously seen director Adrian Lyne’s work in his later film, Jacob’s Ladder, a personal favorite of mine that I was pleasantly surprised to see had made the list when I first started down this little road. That said, I didn’t know how well he would take to other types of material, though I had to admit the idea of a psycho-sexual thriller, especially a mental one, was very intriguing, given what Lyne would later do with Jacob’s Ladder. Needless to say, the film met my expectations; this is a pretty darn good flick, and it’s even one that you can take apart and study why Lyne did the various things he did in each scene that made the film as effective as it was. For instance, he makes frequent use of slowly crawling the camera toward his subjects when Dan and Alex’s affair begins to turn directions into more dangerous territory, which I took to indicate how the world seemed to be collapsing inward onto Dan, and in other ways onto Alex as well. Lyne, I am happy to say, is also aware of when to use a handheld camera and when not to use one, which as I’ve elaborated on in the past is a skill too few directors nowadays possess. And, of course, I can’t close this out without mentioning Glenn Close, who gives us one of the 80s’ most memorable screen villains, if not all of cinema, if AFI’s Heroes & Villains rankings can be attested to.
This ended up being one of the biggest box office draws of 1987, coming in second domestically and first in worldwide gross. Evidently, Lyne touched a nerve with audiences, and indeed both he and Close would continue to get comments about this one to this day, ranging from how scary Close’s character was to how the idea that their one-night stands might have the potential to turn out like this one does basically saved their marriages. I’m still on the fence about whether or not this really has the staying power to remain in the upper echelon of cinema, especially in the decades since its release, but this is all too concerned with hindsight; the film, in the moment, still worked especially well. Oddly enough, this made me want to watch Jacob’s Ladder again, so if you haven’t seen either of these Lyne films, either one is a great one to start with.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10