[Screen It]


(1999) (Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding, Jr.) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Moderate Extreme *Heavy Heavy
Minor Moderate Extreme None Heavy
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Mild Minor Mild Moderate Extreme

Drama: A young psychiatrist tries to uncover why a formerly brilliant anthropologist killed several people while living with mountain gorillas and hasn't spoken since.
Theo Caulder (CUBA GOODING, JR.) is an ambitious psychiatric resident whose unique way of dealing with mental patients impresses his mentor, Ben Hillard (DONALD SUTHERLAND). Thus, when he hears that a former colleague at the University of Miami, Ethan Powell (ANTHONY HOPKINS), is being returned from an African prison for evaluation concerning several murders he committed, Caulder jumps at the chance to lead the investigation.

Although Hillard is reluctant, he allows his protégé to take the case. The problem is, however, that Powell, a university anthropologist who vanished several years ago while studying Rwandan mountain gorillas, hasn't uttered a word for more than a year and often reacts violently to those around him, much like a frightened animal.

To make matters worse, Caulder must conduct his evaluation in Harmony Bay, a maximum security prison run by Warden Keefer (JOHN AYLWARD) and ruled by sadistic guard Dacks (JOHN ASHTON), neither of whom is pleased to have Caulder in their midst.

Working with staff psychiatrist John Murray (GEORGE DZUNDZA), Caulder learns that he must also treat the prison's other mental patients such as Pete (THOMAS Q. MORRIS), Nicko (DOUG SPINUZZA), and the intimidating Bluto (PAUL BATES), all while trying to break through Powell's wall of silence.

Knowing that he has a limited amount of time, Caulder enlists the aid of Powell's estranged daughter, Lyn (MAURA TIERNEY), who's initially reluctant to help, but would like to get back some semblance of her former father.

Once Caulder eventually earns Powell's trust and gets him to speak, he sets off on a rushed journey where he'll learn a great deal about himself and his beliefs while trying to discover the reason for Powell's homicidal past.

If they're fans of Hopkins or Gooding, they might, but otherwise this film probably won't be on most kids "must see" lists.
For some intense violent behavior.
  • ANTHONY HOPKINS plays a man who murdered several poachers after living with gorillas for two years. He often has violent outbursts and uses strong profanity once.
  • CUBA GOODING, JR. plays a psychiatrist who sees doing Powell's evaluation as his big break. Soon, however, he comes to care for Powell. He briefly uses mild profanity.
  • MAURA TIERNEY plays Powell's estranged daughter who hopes that Caulder can figure out what went wrong with her father.
  • JOHN ASHTON plays a sadistic guard who often beats his mentally ill inmates when not playing mind games with them.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    It's been said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks and that you can lead a horse to water, but can't make it drink. Anyone with a pet knows that animals often seem to have a mind of their own and behave according to some unseen, pre-wired instructions that make them react in certain ways. As such, and as seen in person and on TV, birds flock across the world according to the changing seasons, salmon swim upstream to spawn, and squirrels start hoarding nuts not because they consciously want to, but because instinct causes them to.

    The same holds true for "Star Wars" fans who are mysteriously drawn to camp out in line for tickets days or even weeks before the latest film opens -- oops, that's sheer stupidity, not instinct, but I digress.

    Although the rest of us consider ourselves more civilized than them and the rest of the world's critters, we're all still animals. The big question, however, is just how much primal instinct remains in humans after the strains of civilization, the 9 to 5 job, etc... have taken their toll on our preprogramed natural tendencies.

    That's the underlying theme of "Instinct," a film that manages to somewhat transcend its rather straightforward and seemingly less than tremendously compelling plot. Something of a mixture of "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Gorillas in the Mist" with bits of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "The Shawshank Redemption" thrown in for good measure, the film suffers a bit from somewhat unfavorable comparisons to those great films.

    While it still manages to be entertaining despite that, the film also occasionally nearly derails from some too obvious symbolic moments and dialogue -- concerning Tarzan-like thoughts of "nature good, civilization bad" -- and for not arguing both sides of the issue. While it's easy to have a one-way diatribe, a heated, intelligent debate -- if presented properly -- makes for far more entertaining drama.

    Unfortunately, that's not to be. As such, Cuba Gooding, Jr., who satisfactorily plays the archetypal young professional who thinks he's done with his training, simply exchanges Donald Sutherland for Anthony Hopkins as his sage. Thus, there's the inevitable and rather predictable, but still crowd pleasing transformation from the cold and calculating professional to the caring and compassionate graduate of life.

    While that works better in description than realized execution -- since we never really feel that baby-faced Cuba is a non-caring hustler -- we still have to deal with the fact that his character -- like Hopkins' once he's chucked his camera and binoculars -- can finally see "real" life clearly for the first time.

    Some may gag over those obvious life lessons, as well as Cuba having to deliver the big emotional scene near the end -- which is followed by an unnecessary and unbelievable last shot -- but the movie manages nonetheless to survive those and other rather stilted moments.

    Helmed by Jon Turteltaub ("Phenomenon," "Cool Runnings") who's working from a script by Gerald DiPego ("Message in a Bottle," "Phenomenon") -- that was "suggested" by Daniel Quinn's novel, "Ishmael" -- the film has its share of crowd pleasing moments. Nonetheless, it meanders back and forth so often between those aforementioned influential movies that it often feels like a split personality victim in need of a session with the story's shrink.

    Simply put, the plot is concerned with telling a "why did he do it" type story. By making the killer an animalistic and presumably psychotic character, the filmmakers obviously hope to intrigue and draw us into the story, and on a basic level they succeed. Nonetheless, the film never quite seems as spectacular as it should, as if one of its cylinders was missing, and thus isn't as exciting, moving or disturbing as Turteltaub and company had hoped.

    To make matters worse, most viewers will probably compare this film to the spectacular "The Silence of the Lambs." That's mostly due to Anthony Hopkins similarly playing an imprisoned, homicidal character who turns the tables on his novice interrogator and teaches him a thing or two about life and psychoses. Yet, this film clearly isn't as deep or as compelling as "Lambs," and is missing the intriguing subplot that gave that film much greater depth.

    The gorilla flashback scenes, of course, will inevitably remind viewers of the Sigourney Weaver film about doomed researcher Dian Fossey. While those scenes are rather realistic -- thanks to cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and effects wizard Stan Winston and his ape crew -- they often come off more like "Gorillas in the Mist Lite" instead of obtaining the wondrous and awe- inspiring feel they try to both create and emulate.

    It's the cast and their performances, however, that make the film work and turn the film into mostly enjoyable entertainment. Of course, Sir Anthony Hopkins ("Meet Joe Black," "The Edge") could make a Pauly Shore movie seem palatable. While there are some similarities between Ethan Powell and Hannibal Lecter, Hopkins gives each of them subtle -- and sometimes not so subtle -- nuances that allow the two characters to come off more like distant cousins than identical twins.

    Fellow Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. ("Jerry Maguire," "What Dreams May Come") gives an intense performance that, for the most part, works although he fortunately doesn't ever get to the point of yelling "Show me your past!" While an emotion-laden scene late in the film teeters on pushing the credibility of his performance -- as some viewers will buy into the tears and others clearly won't -- Gooding's mostly believable and delivers a crowd pleasing take on his character.

    Supporting performances from the likes of Donald Sutherland ("Disclosure") and Maura Tierney ("Forces of Nature") are good despite what appears may have been a building romantic subplot between her and Gooding that was thankfully either jettisoned or left on the cutting room floor. John Ashton's ("Beverly Hills Cop") take as the sadistic guard, however, never strays far from the prison movie stereotype.

    All in all, the film is rather entertaining despite its striking similarities to past and unfortunately well-known pictures as well as moments that get a bit too preachy for their and the film's own good. With decent performances and a plot that manages to hold one's interest despite its limited potential and straightforward trajectory, this picture certainly isn't the summer's most spectacular film, but it's probably better than a great deal of what will follow. As such, we give "Instinct" a 6 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the content found in this R rated drama. Violence is extreme due to a flashback scene showing several gorillas being shot and then a man attacking and killing several of those gunmen. Other violence includes threatening, physical outbursts by Powell, as well as prison guards and inmates striking other inmates.

    Some of those scenes (that also display various bad attitudes), and the uncertainty of how Powell will react, may be unsettling or suspenseful to some viewers and the film does contain several scenes that will make the audience jump from their seats.

    Profanity is heavy due to the use of 2 "f' words, while a limited amount of other profanities and colorful phrases also occur. Beyond all of that and a little bit of drinking and smoking, the rest of the film is relatively void of any major objectionable content. As always, however, should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness for anyone in your home, you may want to take a closer look at the content that's been listed.

  • People have drinks in a bar, including Caulder and Hillard (although his could also possibly be just water).
  • Lyn asks Caulder if he wants a drink. When he says that he does, she says that they should go out for one, but we never see this happen.
  • Hillard carries a glass of wine/champagne and then gives Caulder a drink, but his protégé doesn't drink any of it.
  • Powell has a tiny bit of blood on his head after being hit there.
  • A prisoner has some blood trickle down from their nose after they've been slapped.
  • We see that a prisoner (who wears a football helmet) has repeatedly beat his head against the wall so much that his head is now extremely bloody. After trying to help but then leaving, Caulder's blood-covered hands leave smeared prints on a door.
  • We see a dead marsupial type creature hanging by its neck in the jungle.
  • We see a slight abrasion on Caulder's face after a piece of duct tape has been ripped from his mouth.
  • We see a bullet hit a man's leg.
  • After a gorilla has been mortally shot, we see what looks like some blood running from its mouth.
  • Some may see Powell as having both for killing several people, but once it's learned that he was simply defending his adopted gorilla family, viewers may change their mind.
  • It's mentioned that Caulder is taking the case just to further his career, but we never really believe that and he eventually comes around to caring for Powell and truly wanting to help him.
  • Instead of allowing the psychotic inmates to each have their designated thirty minutes outdoors, Dacks has invented a game where the holder of the Ace of Diamonds is the one who gets to go out. Distributing the cards, he knows that the biggest inmate will always get the card from whoever has it, and thus keep the others in check. In one scene, he purposefully gives the special card to Powell, hoping to see what he does when the large inmate comes looking for it.
  • Upset at the waves Caulder is making, the prison warden cuts short his "tour of duty" by several days, thus putting more pressure on Caulder to get his job done.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers. In addition, those and the following scenes, while not frightening as in a horror movie, may or may not be unsettling, suspenseful or scary to viewers, all dependent on the viewer's age and tolerance for such material.
  • For those afraid of dogs, a scene where Powell is placed into the back of a closed truck with two vicious Dobermans may be unsettling (but he turns out to have quickly tamed them).
  • Moments where Caulder is alone in a room with Powell may be unsettling or suspenseful to some viewers (for fear of Caulder's safety after seeing Powell's violent outbursts), and in one scene he does grab Caulder and threatens to kill him if he doesn't answer and understand Powell's question to him.
  • Early scenes where Powell is near or briefly threatened by the gorillas may also cause the same reaction in some viewers.
  • We see that a prisoner (who wears a football helmet) has repeatedly beat his head against the wall so much that his head is now extremely bloody. As Caulder tries to help him, the other psychotic inmates swarm around him like animals.
  • Rifles/Handguns: Carried by various guards.
  • Billy club: Used by guards to beat on various inmates and Powell.
  • Stun gun: Used on Powell to subdue him.
  • Rifles/Pistols: Used by men to shoot many gorillas and Powell once in the leg.
  • Wooden club: Used by Powell to kill and injure several people.
  • Phrases: "Bag of sh*t," "Pissed off," "Moron" and "Shut up."
  • Dacks suddenly blurts out a command at Caulder, making him -- and some in the audience -- jump.
  • A gorilla in the jungle suddenly pops out and may startle some in the audience.
  • Powell suddenly spins around in a mostly silent scene.
  • A gorilla is suddenly shot.
  • An extreme amount of dramatically suspenseful music occurs during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 2 "f" words, 2 "s" words, 3 damns, 2 S.O.B.'s, 1 ass, 1 hell, and 1 use of "G-damn" (with another possible one) and "Christ" as exclamations.
  • We briefly see a photo of a nude tribal boy that shows full frontal nudity somewhat cloaked in shadows (similar to those seen in "National Geographic," etc...).
  • Lyn smokes once.
  • Powell's wife and daughter see how he acts like an escaped animal at his airport arrival, and his daughter later talks about him always being a rather distant and preoccupied father who was more concerned with his work than his family.
  • Instinct and whether civilization and modern day life has driven most of it out of people.
  • Whether Powell's action of killing several poachers while attempting to defend his gorilla family was justified or not.
  • Those with mental problems/the criminally insane.
  • Powell, upset about a blaring alarm, finally can't take it anymore and violently knocks several guards into surrounding walls at an airport. A guard/cop then hits Powell in the face with his billy club, but Powell simply smashes him back into a wall. The cop then punches him and Powell drives both of them through a glass window. As he then tries to escape, he knocks many people aside until he encounters more security. He hits one of them and throws a female guard into several others, and then proceeds to repeatedly pummel one of the guards on the back.
  • We hear that Powell was in prison for killing two people and injuring another three with a wooden club (and we later see this in flashback, listed below).
  • One prisoner pushes Powell on the shoulders, and then slaps another prisoner, giving the latter a little bit of a bloody nose.
  • After Powell stabs his pencil into a desk, prison guards tackle him to the floor and then give him a jolt with a stun gun.
  • A big prisoner hits Powell who then knocks him to the floor with his fists and then lands on top of him, choking him with his shackles (and has to be yanked off by guards).
  • Powell stabs a pencil down into a photo, breaking the glass covering it.
  • We hear that another inmate is incarcerated for murdering someone (not seen).
  • We see two prisoners struggling/wrestling on the floor over some issue/thing.
  • We see that a prisoner (who wears a football helmet) has repeatedly beat his head against the wall so much that his head is now extremely bloody.
  • Powell slams Caulder against a wall, throws and pins him to a table, puts a piece of duct tape over his mouth and then puts a choke hold on him. As he tries to force Caulder to answer his question of what's he just taken away from him, Powell also reminds Caulder that he has nothing to lose in killing him.
  • When Powell won't show him his playing card, Dacks hits him in the gut with his billy club.
  • A gorilla is suddenly shot and killed by poachers/officials, and several more shots take down more gorillas. Powell then races up and repeatedly attacks one of the gunmen with a wooden club and then does the same to another who's about to shoot another gorilla. He then strikes other gunmen, and others arrive and they fight until another man comes up and shoots Powell in the leg. That man then shoots a charging gorilla twice and then pushes Powell's head to the ground with his foot to keep him subdued.
  • Dacks hits Powell in the back with his club and as the other inmates react, grabs one of them through the cell bars and bangs that man's head against the bars. He then goes after another prisoner, hitting and kicking him. Powell then grabs Dacks and smashes him into the cell walls and then throws him over to a large prisoner who begins choking him through his cell bars. Other guards then subdue Powell and the others.

  • Reviewed May 17, 1999 / Posted June 4, 1999

    Other new and recent reviews include:

    [Desperados] [Hamilton] [The Outpost] [Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga] [Irresistible] [My Spy]

    Privacy Statement and Terms of Use and Disclaimer
    By entering this site you acknowledge to having read and agreed to the above conditions.

    All Rights Reserved,
    ©1996-2020 Screen It, Inc.