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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Wasted Talent
by Betty Jo Tucker

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be anthropologists. They might try to emulate Dr. Ethan Powell, a character played by Anthony Hopkins in Instinct, and decide to hang out in the jungle with a bunch of gorillas.They might even take on animal characteristics, acting more like uncivilized primates than humans. Finally, and worst of all, they could end up facing therapy sessions with an arrogant psychiatrist like the one portrayed here by Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Dr. Caulder (Gooding, Jr.) is one tough cookie. He boasts to Powell’s daughter, played by the wonderful Maura Tierney (formerly of News Radio), “I never quit or give up, even when I’m doing something stupid.” (Like being in this movie?) When the persistent therapist first sees Powell in a prison for the criminally insane, he finds him over-medicated and brutalized. Challenged by the noted scientist’s unwillingness to speak a word after going on a killing rage in Rwanda, Caulder works hard to bring Powell out of his shell.

Why won’t Powell talk? What caused his violent killing of two men and beating of four others? Answers are revealed though intense interactions between the doctor and his patient. But how sad to hear Oscar winners Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs) and Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire) utter melodramatic dialogue during most of their scenes. And how discouraging to watch them compete with the most overblown, manipulative background music since Legends of the Fall.

Thank heavens for the gorillas! They look so majestic in those jungle flashbacks.  As in Gorillas in the Mist, they fascinated me with their huge bodies and massive heads. Stan Winston, creator of creatures in films like Jurassic Park and Aliens, deserves much credit for the realistic appearance of the apes in many shots. Believe it or not, this film actually had a “primate choreographer” and “gorilla performers.” These people did a great job.

Inspired by Daniel Quinn’s novel “Ishmael,” Instinct was written for the screen by Gerald DiPego, who also did the excellent adaptation of Message in a Bottle. DiPego found reading Quinn’s book to be an emotional experience because “it does make you think and it breaks your heart.”  Then why did he write a screenplay of an entirely different story with different characters? Producer Barbara Boyle explains, “The book was a philosophy book with a dialogue between a man and a gorilla.” No doubt that would be difficult to transfer to the screen, but why not try? 

Nevertheless, director Jon Turteltaub loved DiPego’s screenplay. “It asked a lot of interesting questions about mankind and the world we live in today,” he said, mentioning such important questions as what are our priorities to ourselves and our responsibilities to others. Unfortunately, this usually outstanding director (Phenomenon) neglected his own responsibility to make an entertaining movie this time.

(Released by Buena Vista Pictures and “R” for some intense violent behavior.)     

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