Instinct (1999) starring Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Donald Sutherland, Maura Tierney, George Dzundza, John Ashton directed by Jon Turteltaub Movie Review

Instinct (1999)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Anthony Hopkins as Ethan Powell in Instinct

Primate Instinct

"Instinct" starring Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr. is quite a strange movie because frankly it is not hugely entertaining and much of it feels all too familiar, as if the writers unintentionally or intentionally drew inspiration from other movies to manufacture a story. But in amongst all the familiarity and what at times feels quite a slow storyline it has moments which draw you in to what is happening, many of which are thanks to the superior acting of Anthony Hopkins which stands out amongst a lot of mediocrity.

Two years after having gone missing whilst studying Gorilla's, respected anthropologist Dr. Ethan Powell (Anthony Hopkins - Meet Joe Black) is brought back to America where he is imprisoned in a mental institution for committing murder in the jungle. Young enthusiastic psychiatrist Dr. Theo Caulder (Cuba Gooding Jr. - As Good as It Gets) is given the case but struggles to break down the self imposed barriers, including silence, which Powel adheres too. But slowly Caulder manages to bond with Powell and discovers not only why he killed two poachers in the jungle but why Powell had become a primal beast himself.

Donald Sutherland and Cuba Gooding Jr. in Instinct

Most of the trouble with "Instinct" is that you become distracted by all the obvious comparisons most notably of these is "Gorilla's in the mist" but with it also being set in a mental institution there is an element of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to it as well, along with quite a few other easy to make comparisons. Because of this there are far too many obvious plot devices, again drawn from these other movies making it feel like an imitation, often not a good one at that because it's a slow unwinding drama a little bit cumbersome at times.

But to counteract this "Instinct" is not totally stereotypical nonsense and the storyline, the contact between Caulder and Powell, the slow forming of a deep trust even understanding draws you into what is happening. It does at times struggle to hold your attention but when it does it is surprisingly captivating as you warm to both Caulder the career minded psychiatrist who starts to learn from Powell rather than just study him and Powell himself as Caulder manages to delve deep into his psyche getting behind the barriers which he has put up. Add to this that we get to see Powell's life living with the Gorilla's and the slow change from normality into a primal beast which although is nothing new is done well making you sympathise for this man, understanding why he has become like a caged animal.

Plus whilst for the most you have all these obvious comparisons, and occasional slowness it does manage to keep you on your toes. It throws twists out you, scenes which suddenly grab your attention with something completely out of the blue. In many ways it's clever because it fools you into a false sense of security, allowing you to believe one thing but then delivering something different.

But what really makes "Instinct" such a captivating movie despite the flaws is the performances most notably that of Anthony Hopkins, who demonstrates that acting is more than just saying your lines. For the first half of the movie Hopkins's character Powell is silent yet through the way he acts, the mannerisms he exhibits you really get a sense that here is a man who has become primal, but you really get a sense of what Powell is also feeling such as pity and fear through Hopkins wonderfully expressive face and eyes. It's a performance from Hopkins which not so much saves "Instinct" but makes it better than it probably should have been as you are drawn into his life.

Alongside Powell you have the equally talented Cuba Gooding Jr. who is nearly as powerful as Hopkins in his creation of a compelling character. I say nearly because at times the performance feels a slight bit mechanical as if he was imitating other characters from those movies which this feels comparable too. But even so the scenes featuring Hopkins and Gooding Jr. are extremely powerful especially once Hopkins starts speaking. Trust me there are scenes between the two of them which will make you jump with a sudden volatile outburst which breaks one of the many lulls.

What this all boils down to is that "Instinct" is a surprising movie, it plays along at quite a mediocre pace with no real excitement and far too many comparisons to be made with other movies. But then between the performances of Hopkins and Gooding Jr. it's sort of captivating drawing you into this relationship between the two men as they form a bond. It's not the greatest of movies but in particular the performance from Hopkins makes it worth seeing at least once.