Fatal Attraction (1987)

6 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

What “Fatal Attraction” is trying to get across is very simple—don’t cheat on your spouse. Even when you think there’s a way out of a one-night stand or an affair, don’t take the chance that it will turn against you and threaten the lifestyle of your family. In “Fatal Attraction,” family man Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) has a one-night love affair with another woman and wants to end it the morning after. But the woman won’t let it end, no matter what…

This would be the premise for a broad comedy, but “Fatal Attraction” is a thriller—and an effective one, at that. It shows the consequences that occur not only when a married man cheats on his wife, but also with the wrong woman.

The film’s opening scenes feature the life of successful, happily married lawyer Dan Gallagher, his wife Beth (Anne Archer), and adorable six-year-old daughter Ellen. While Beth and Ellen are out of town for the weekend, Dan meets Alex Forrest (Glenn Close), an editor for a publishing company. They have dinner together, Alex seems like an intelligent, passive woman, and she and Dan wind up having a passionate affair that very night. Alex assures Dan that it would’ve only been a simple thing, a fling to be forgotten about later, and Dan falls for it.

Big mistake. Dan leaves the next morning, hoping to forget all about this and go back to his normal life. But Alex doesn’t let it go—she wants to further the relationship and clings to Dan. Dan tries to let it down easy on her that they should never have a relationship together…only to have Alex attempt suicide. And it gets worse—it turns out that Alex is pregnant with Dan’s baby.

Or is she? We’re never quite sure of this. But what we do know is that Alex is obsessive and undoubtedly insane. Dan wants nothing to do with her, but Alex keeps coming and coming, threatening the lifestyle of Dan and his family. Dan tells Alex to leave him alone, to which Alex replies “I’m not going to be ignored, Dan!”

This is one crazy lady. And the odd thing is that she starts out seemingly normal. It’s this affair with Dan that sets her on edge, and the fact that she can’t have him enrages her. Her rage continues to grow every day and her obsessiveness takes her over to the point of violence. Who is at fault for all of this? Is it Dan, for falling into this affair with a woman other than his wife, and then hoping to forget about it immediately? Is it Alex, for leading him on in the first place? You can read much into this.

Dan is a likable guy, despite what he does. He’s just trying to do right by his wife, whom he still loves. He’s smart too—when things turn ugly, he follows advice that many characters in thrillers seem to neglect. He calls the police to see about a restraining order. He even tells his wife about the affair, later in the movie. Understandably, Beth doesn’t take this very well—especially not when Dan tells her that Alex is pregnant. There’s great family drama in occurrence in “Fatal Attraction,” particularly in the scenes in which Dan is trying to fix everything to keep his wife and daughter from any harm.

Michael Douglas and Glenn Close do great jobs at portraying these characters, and Anne Archer is effective as Dan’s wife Beth.

Some critics, including Roger Ebert, were bothered by the film’s ending, in which Alex officially loses it and attempts to slash Beth before Dan can try and stop her. This has been likened as a “Friday the 13th” style ending, and to be honest, the only time I made this distinction is with the brief fake-out after it seems that Alex is finally dead. Of course not; she comes back for one cheap scare. The climax itself worked for me; it’s effective in showing how far Alex was pushed in her mental obsessiveness. But that cheap scare at the end didn’t work at all. It did indeed make it seem like a slasher film. Mostly though, “Fatal Attraction” is a terrific psychological thriller. The acting is great, the dilemmas are legitimately tense, and it’s executed with convincing realism

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