1994, R, 128 min. Directed by Barry Levinson. Starring Michael Douglas, Demi Moore, Donald Sutherland, Caroline Goodall, Dennis Miller, Roma Maffia.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 9, 1994
Just who does Michael Douglas think he is? As an actor, he is honing his “victimized, white, middle-class male” persona into a fine art, and with each new film essaying another variation on the theme of contemporary emasculation and its discontents: Fatal Attraction, Wall Street, The War of the Roses, Basic Instinct, Falling Down -- even Douglas' debut into filmmaking as the producer of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest can be seen as the rebel-boy version of this castration nightmare. And now this? -- the film adaptation of Michael Crichton's sensational novel about reverse sexual harassment… as if we've already seen so many movies about the sexual harassment of women in the workplace that the time is ripe for narrative role reversals? Crichton has never been one to shy away from improbable techno-mayhem propositions anchored by topical hooks -- Westworld, The Andromeda Strain, Coma (which starred Michael Douglas), Jurassic Park -- so this story about women in high corporate places who derive pleasure from the men underneath them is a natural for him. Set in the world of a high-tech computer firm on the precipice of a big-stakes merger with another corporation, the issue of sexual harassment is merely the story's attention-grabber. The real issue is the manipulation of corporate power and the lengths that some people (e.g., ball-breaking women) will go to acquire it. In Disclosure, the allegation of sexual harassment is a tactic, the “MacGuffin” that veils scrutiny of the true crime which, in this case, involves an elaborate virtual reality gimmick and plain-old corporate sabotage. The script is by Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show screenwriter and former film critic), not Crichton, and I suspect that Attanasio's hand was responsible for the emphasis on the human drama over the techno-intrigue. The script actually has a number of intelligent passages that use the harassment reversal to clearly establish that such behavior is rooted in power dynamics and not sexual foreplay. It allows men who might never think about such issues to safely walk a mile in a woman's pumps and see sexual harassment for the leverage that it is. Yet, the film's dramatic emphasis downplays the techno-stuff, which is our only true source for understanding the specific trajectory of this story. Thus, the particulars of the high-tech sabotage get lost in the dramatic arc of “now you know what it feels like, boys.” This emphasis on the movie's hook comes at the expense of plausible underpinnings for the story's progression. No doubt, this shift is also the work of director Levinson, whom we tend to associate with humanistic enterprises rather than techo-thrillers. The choice of such provocative subject matter is understandably Levinson's bid to restore his popular success after the disastrous receptions for his last two films, Toys and Jimmy Hollywood. And how about that Demi Moore? She sure can pick 'em. Her recent record for sniffing out box-office dynamite should earn her a spot on the Hollywood bomb squad. What's interesting is that Disclosure offers an array of strong, smart, and effective female characters: Douglas' wife (Goodall), attorney (Maffia), and boss (Moore). But they are all Douglas' something-or-other, and the story is his, not theirs. The visual look of the movie, with its all-glassed-in offices and open observation areas, perfectly reinforces the idea of corporate glass ceilings. Locally, Disclosure is sure to get some extra mileage out of the fact that numerous mentions are made about a potential demotion to “the Austin office.” In its rush to push hot buttons, Disclosure neglected some essentials of good storytelling.