Susan Granger’s review of “INSTINCT” (Touchstone Pictures)
Violence has become a negative catch-word recently, so it’s refreshing to see how the concept is explored in this psychological thriller, based on Daniel Quinn’s book “Ismael.” Anthony Hopkins plays a highly respected primatologist who has been jailed for killing two Rwandan rangers and injuring others after choosing to live in the wild with mountain gorillas for nearly two years. Held captive in an overcrowded maximum security prison for the criminally insane, he is interrogated by a bright, ambitious psychiatrist, Cuba Gooding Jr., who is eager to understand the mysterious truth behind the scientist’s actions in anticipation of writing a best-seller. While simplistic, Gerald DiPego’s script is intelligent and thoughtful, delving into the concepts of illusion and freedom, combined with the lust for domination and control, ultimately dividing people into “givers” and “takers.” Director Jon Turtletaub (“Phenomenon”) integrates the brutal reality of prison life with memories of what transpired in Africa to motivate Hopkins’ violent behavior. The challenging, combative chemistry between Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr. is palpable, escalating the tension level, which is already elevated by the hostile sadism of the prison’s guards and warden. But a subplot involving Maura Tierney as Hopkins’ daughter never jells, and the conclusion is cloyingly melodramatic. Arguably the most versatile and talented actor on the screen today, Anthony Hopkins evokes a volatile power and fury reminiscent of Hannibal Lechter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” while Cuba Gooding Jr. displays a forceful, bruising intensity. And special-effects wizard Stan Winston works wonders with the gorillas. On the Granger Movie Gauge, “Instinct” is a compelling 7, commanding attention from start to finish.