This was one of the last reviews I wrote for my college newspaper. Indecent Proposal was released in the spring of 1993, when I was weeks from graduation. For some reason, my partner-in-all-things had a scanned copy of this nestled deep into the hard drive of one of her computers and passed it along to me this week. I’ve seen probably no more than a minute of this film since watching it for the review. I’ll bet all the material that I describe as “provocative” seems tame as can be now.
The new movie “Indecent Proposal” has a terrific beginning. Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore play a married couple whose dreams for the future are being rapidly dragged down by the recession. Their dream home is about to be reclaimed by the bank, and their dwindling paychecks are making it seem impossible to make ends meet. They’re so desperate they take the little money they have to Las Vegas, in hopes of parlaying it into enough cash to pay off their rapidly accumulating debt. The casino trip has proven fruitless, but a handsome billionaire (Robert Redford) may have a different, provocative solution for them. After spotting Demi Moore, he makes a proposition. He offers the pair one million dollars in exchange for one night of passion with Moore.
As presented by director Adrian Lyne (“Fatal Attraction”), the earliest scenes that lead up to this moment are compelling and even intoxicating. Redford methodically lures the couple into his world through some casual flirting with Moore in the casino. Lyne’s stylish directing job gives everything a steamy appeal; even Moore kissing a pair of ruby red dice for luck brims over with sexiness. Redford’s performance also helps draw the audience into this situation. He plays those scenes with the cool composure of a man accustomed to always getting what he desires. He’s fully aware that his money brings him power and that power allows him to approach the situation with relaxed certainty. He never doubts that his proposition will be accepted.
It’s after this that the movie begins to crumble apart. Lyne is a master at manipulating images, but he doesn’t have much skill at handling characters or real emotions. Lyne has long been criticized for emphasizing style over substance in his films, and that limitation greatly hinders this new film. Harrelson and Moore’s marriage is tormented by jealousy and anger. The two continually push each other part as the money that was so important is shunned by the pair, because it represents the destruction of their bond. All of these scenes seem extremely forced as the characters aren’t progressing in natural, believable ways. It’s as if Lyne is pandering to the audience, trying to please everyone. Yet he’s so unfaithful to the true nature of these characters that he winds up shutting out the audience entirely.
The shameless sentimentality that runs throughout the second half of the film and some awkward comic relief from Harrelson’s lawyer (Oliver Platt) only serve to further sink the film. There’s a daring, sultry theme at the root of “Indecent Proposal,” but it seems oddly sanitized as the film continually shifts away from its risky beginnings.