USA 1999

Reviewed by Ken Hollings


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Florida, the present. Psychiatric resident Theo Caulder is selected to evaluate the mental competence of anthropologist Ethan Powell to stand trial for murder. Powell has been extradited from Rwanda where he has already served a year in prison for killing and wounding members of a search party sent to find him. Having spent two years in the jungle living among the gorillas, Powell displays an affinity with animals and responds violently to other humans. He has been completely silent since his arrest.

Caulder's first attempts to get him to talk are frustrated by the brutal methods employed at the correctional facility where Powell is being held. He seeks help from Powell's daughter who describes how her father's obsession with gorillas left little room for his own family. Eventually Powell speaks, offering Caulder insights into his life with the apes, whose company he found far superior to human society. He also reveals he attacked his rescuers only after they had opened fire on the gorillas, slaughtering several of them. Just before his trial, however, Powell assaults a guard who has been terrorising a fellow inmate and then withdraws into silence again. Using a pen unwittingly supplied by Caulder, Powell escapes and is last seen wandering alone through the jungle.


With a title sequence that contrasts lush scenes of gorillas ruminating peacefully in their green jungle habitat with dank images of human captivity as Powell is manacled for extradition to the US, Instinct has its arguments locked and loaded pretty much from the start. Human society, exemplified this time by the demands and strictures of the Florida penal system, is once more found wanting compared with the order and wonder of the natural world. (Director Jon Turteltaub and writer Gerald DiPego previously collaborated on the cod-mystical Phenomenon.)

With his customary subtle authority Anthony Hopkins plays Powell, a highly educated scientist who has returned from the wilderness having become a violent representative of what state-appointed shrink Caulder describes as "ungoverned man", a noble savage responsible for clubbing to death two fellow humans and wounding three more. Florida being one of the first states to reintroduce the death penalty for murder nearly 20 years ago, a lot more than Powell's liberty is at stake. A stooped, shuffling figure in drab prison fatigues and heavy restraints, his features partially obscured by a grizzled beard and straggling, unkempt locks, Powell bears an alarming resemblance to Charles Manson on his way to prison in 1971.

The similarities don't end there. Caulder's cautious probings of Powell's psyche quickly become philosophical exchanges in which Powell imparts to his unwilling pupil lessons that could have come straight from the Book of Charlie. The vast majority of humanity are "takers", exploiting and abusing the world around them. Freedom and control are nothing but illusions, a point which Powell demonstrates forcibly by threatening to break Caulder's neck with his bare hands. Following the doubts about screen violence which he expressed after his performance as serial killer Hannibal Lecter, Hopkins is back playing a kinder, gentler sociopath.

But what happens when we get in touch with our inner gorilla? More importantly, what happens when we don't? If the Harmony Bay correctional facility is a stark cypher for modern society, it is one manifestly devoid of women. In fact, there are only two female characters of any substance in the entire movie: Powell's daughter, whom he finally accepts; and a female gorilla who invites Powell to share in the nurturing of her baby and is promptly shot by park rangers for her trouble. Instinct depicts the gorillas existing happily within a benign patriarchy watched over by a powerful male leader, but you never see how this position is maintained or challenged within the group. A mother defending her child is about as ugly as it gets. Meanwhile, the Harmony Bay inmates are shown fighting over playing cards, inflicting indiscriminate injury upon themselves and each other. All in all, Instinct comes across as an updated version of Bambi (1942). Made at a time when gorillas were still chasing the Ritz Brothers around haunted houses, Disney's animated feature warned audiences that "man has entered the forest" with a similar, if less extreme, blend of sentiment and brutality. Even the wordless choruses Danny Elfman uses so effectively on the soundtrack here carry awestruck echoes of Frank Churchill and Edward Plumb's Bambi score. From cartoon deer to animatronic gorillas, however beautifully designed, is only a small step.

Cuba Gooding Jr brings a brash, kinetic fun to his portrayal of Caulder, whether bluffing a patient into doubting her own paranoiac delusions, laughing too loudly at a colleague's jokes or addressing a barman by his first name. But the demands of the plot gradually erode his position, leaving him by the end a passive accomplice to Powell's escape. Like Hannibal Lecter before him, Powell has to disappear because there is nowhere left for him, or the story, to go. But whereas the highly cultured Lecter only needed the top from a psychiatrist's pen to attain his freedom, the more primitive Powell now requires the whole thing.


Michael Taylor
Barbara Boyle
Screenplay/Screen Story
Gerald DiPego
Suggested by the novel Ishmael by
Daniel Quinn
Director of Photography
Philippe Rousselot
Richard Francis-Bruce
Production Designer
Garreth Stover
Music/Score Producer
Danny Elfman
©Spyglass Entertainment Group, L.P.
Production Companies
A Touchstone Pictures/Spyglass Entertainment presentation
Executive Producers
Wolfgang Petersen
Gail Katz
Richard Lerner
Brian Doubleday
Christina Steinberg
Production Supervisor
Yvonne Yaconelli
Production Controller
Allen E. Taylor
Production Co-ordinators
Kristeen Olson
Jamaican Unit:
Montez Monroe
Unit Production Manager
Bill Johnson
Unit Managers
Jamaican Unit:
Natalie Thompson
Maxine Walters
Location Managers
Valerie Schields
Alan Victor Levi
Jamaican Unit:
Wayne Sinclair
Assistant Directors
William M. Elvin
Andrew Bernstein
Dylan K. Massin
Script Supervisor
Thomas Johnston
Renée Rousselot
ADR Voice:
Barbara Harris
Tanya Sullivan
Aerial Photography
David Nowell
Camera Operators
Anastas Michos
Ted Morris
Wally Pfister
Visual Effects
Dream Quest Images
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Jeffrey Burks
Visual Effects Producer:
Erika Wangberg Burton
Production Co-ordinator:
Kathryn Liotta-Couture
Compositing Supervisor:
Rory Hinnen
Jeff Olm
Gina Warr-Lawes
Amy Pfaffinger
John Huikku
Steward Burris
Brian Lutge
Teresa Williams
Visual Effects Editor:
Daniel Arkin
Special Effects
James L. Roberts
Bruce E. Merlin
Mark Bradley
Art Directors
Chris Cornwell
Jamaican Unit:
Samantha Gore
Set Designers
Mark E. Garner
Stéphanie S. Girard
Set Decorator
Larry Dias
James Clyne
Darryl Henley
Scenic Artist
Todd Bray
Costume Designer
Jill Ohanneson
Costume Supervisor
John Casey
Make-up Supervision
John Blake
Special Character Effects
Stan Winston
Gorillas Design/Creation
Stan Winston Studio
Effects Supervisors:
Shane Mahan
J. Allan Scott
Greg Figiel
Joey Orosco
John Rosengrant
Key Artists:
Richie Alonzo
Christopher Swift
Bill Basso
Paul Mejias
Mark Jurinko
Jason Matthews
Scott Stoddard
Hair Department Supervisor:
Stuart Artingstall
Hair Department:
Ursula Ward
Lynne Watson
Michael Ornelaz
Rob Phillips
Connie Cadwell
Jill Crosby
Stacie Figueroa
Kelly Kernaghan
Christine Stahl
Key Animatronic Design:
Kirk Skodis
Jeff Edwards
Dave Covarrubias
Animatronic Design:
Bob Mano
Al Sousa
Rich Haugen
Brian Namanny
Jon Dawe
Tim Nordella
Lloyd Ball
Fabrication Department Supervisor:
Karen Mason
Fabrication Department:
Beth Hathaway
Judy Bowerman
Lynette Eklund
Alon Dori
Electronic Design:
Roderick Khachatoorian
Kurt Herbel
Emery Brown
Glenn Derry
Art/Mold Technical Department
Tony McCray
Darin Bouyssou
Lindsay MacGowan
Keith Marbory
Trevor Hensley
Kevin McTurk
Lance Gilmer
Joe Reader
Eric Ostroff
Barry Crane
Ian Stevenson
Lou Diaz
Mike Harper
Jim Charmatz
David Monzingo
John Calpin
Executive in Charge of Operation:
Tara Meaney-Crocitto
Production Co-ordinator:
Stiles White
Project Photographer:
Chuck Zlotnick
Production Liaison:
Tate Taylor
Daniel Curet
Title Design
Brian King
Buena Vista Imaging
Orchestra Conductor
Pete Anthony
Steve Bartek
David Slonaker
Executive in Charge of Music, The Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group
Kathy Nelson
Supervising Music Editor
Bob Badami
Music Editor
Jennifer Nash
Score Recordist/Mixer
Shawn Murphy
Midi Preparation/Supervision
Marc Mann
Primate Choreographer
Gorilla Unit:
Peter Elliott
Sound Mixer
Peter J. Devlin
Re-recording Mixers
Terry Porter
Mel Metcalfe
Dean A. Zupancic
Additional Audio
Mark Ormandy
Tucker Bills
Judy Nord
Jeannette Cremarosa
Supervising Sound Editors
Kelly Cabral
Wylie Stateman
Dialogue Editors
Lauren Stephens
Kimaree Long
Sound Effects Design
Jon Title
Sound Effects Editors
Hector Gika
Scott Sanders
Jennifer Mann
Jeff Wilhoit
Jimmy Moriana
J.C. Lucas
David Alstadter
Kelly Oxford
Craig Jaeger
Prison Technical Adviser
Jonathan O'Hern
Stunt Co-ordinator
Jim Vickers
Animal Wrangler
Michael Alexander
Helicopter Pilot
Robert 'Bobby Z' Zajonc
Anthony Hopkins
Ethan Powell
Cuba Gooding Jr
Theo Caulder
Donald Sutherland
Ben Hillard
Maura Tierney
Lyn Powell
George Dzundza
Dr John Murray
John Ashton
Guard Dacks
John Aylward
Warden Keefer
Thomas Q. Morris
Doug Spinuzza
Paul Bates
Rex Linn
Guard Alan
Rod McLachlan
Anderson, guard
Kurt Smildsin
Jim Coleman
Tracey Ellis
Kim Ingram
Lester Rodman
Paul Collins
Tom Hanley
Marc Macaulay
Jim Grimshaw
Gary Bristow
federal marshal
Rus Blackwell
Bruce Borgan
government aides
Louanne Stephens
Marjorie Powell
Ajgie Kirkland
Captain Kagona
Chike Kani Omo
Christopher John Harris
Ivonne Coll
Doctor Marquez
Pat McNamara
Doctor Josephson
Vivienne Sendaydiego
Roger Floyd
Dave Deever
man in car
Tim Goodwin
helmet man
Alex City
Jimmy Dipisa
Manwell Hendrix
Kevin McNally
Kevin Moore
Joe Tacke
Bertram Wallace
John Travis
Mike, bartender
David Anthony
John Munro Cameron
Jay Caputo
Garon Michael
Misty Rosas
David St. Pierre
Verne Troyer
gorilla performers
Buena Vista International (UK)
11,139 feet
123 minutes 46 seconds
SDDS/Dolby digital/Digital DTS sound
In Colour
Prints by
Anamorphic [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011