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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Instinct (1999)



Reviews and Comments

Hollywood is notoriously liberal, and so one gets accustomed to movies with liberal agendas. Even so, Instinct stands apart as a film whose agendas are ludicrously liberal. It would have us believe that a man guilty of murder should not be in prison, that sometimes the lives of animals are worth more than the lives of humans, and that there's nothing so evil as zoos and civilization in general. Transparent techniques of manipulation are applied in excess: the movie understands, correctly, that empathy in all the right places and the utter lack of it in others, can make just about anything seem sound and sensible.

About half the time, the film's manipulation is admirably skillful. But it falters occasionally, most severely when Cuba Gooding Jr. forces a prison policy change on the wardens basically by leading a rebellion, peaceful though it may be. It's a much needed change, but why he thinks the ends justify the means, or why he things the wardens can't or won't reverse the change at the first opportunity, I do not know.

But amidst the clutter of feel-good moralizing are two very strong performances by Anthony Hopkins (watered down Hannibal Lecter though his character may be) and Cuba Gooding Jr., who have excellent chemistry together. The film is worth seeing for their scenes together, which are convincing even when they hit notes that don't quite fit with what we know of the characters, all the way up until the end, when each has an overly emotional monologue to give to the other.

Thanks to the stars and the sporadically sharp dialogue, I found Instinct quite diverting. The time passed quickly, and I was entertained, so that's something. But I wish it had left me with something more solid and lasting.