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Review: Indecent Proposal (1993)

Indecent Proposal (1993)

Directed by: Adrian Lyne | 117 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Robert Redford, Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson, Seymour Cassel, Oliver Platt, Billy Bob Thornton, Rip Taylor, Billy Connolly, Joel Brooks, Pierre Epstein, Danny Zorn, Kevin West, Pamela Holt

She was once the highest paid actress of all time; she was the first woman to receive more than ten million dollars for a leading role, in her case twelve million for the flopped 1995 ‘Striptease’. Demi Moore is the textbook example of how ephemeral fame can be. In 1985 she broke through with ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’, and thanks to ‘Ghost’ (1990) and ‘A Few Good Men’ (1992), her popularity soared to great heights. Her marriage to Bruce Willis and her much-discussed and oft-copied nude photo shoot in Vanity Fair (when she was seven months pregnant with her second child) kept her constantly in the media. But from 1993 it went downhill: films like ‘Disclosure’ (1994), ‘The Juror’ (1996) and the aforementioned ‘Striptease’ flopped and then her long-cherished project ‘GI Jane’ (1997) – a role for which she even shaved her hair off – was scourged by the press and the public, she decided to put her career on the back burner. At the time, her marriage to Bruce Willis was also on the rocks. It would take about seven years before the still beautiful Moore would take her film career seriously again.

One of the most talked about films starring Moore – and one of the last commercial successes of her heyday – is ‘Indecent Proposal’ (1993), based on Jack Engelhard’s novel of the same name. Moore plays Diana Murphy, a young woman recently married to architect David (Woody Harrelson). He dreams of building his own house. There is only one problem: they have no money. So they decide to try their luck in Las Vegas. Initially it goes very well and they manage to double their bet, but then they lose everything in one fell swoop. Before they run off, they are approached by billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford), who frankly admits he likes Diana. He firmly believes that everything is for sale and offers the couple a million dollars for a night with Diana. Diana and David indignantly refuse at first, but eventually decide to accept the offer. After all, with a million, they can get rid of their money worries in one fell swoop. After her night with John, Diana returns to David; she doesn’t want to say much about what happened. In any case, the damage has already been done: David trusts Diana less and less and new setbacks drive a wedge between the two lovers. Meanwhile, John does his very best to win Diana for himself.

‘Would you do it for a million?’, everyone has heard that question. ‘Indecent Proposal’ makes you muse for almost two hours about what you would have answered yourself. Screenwriter Amy Holden Jones chose to leave the viewer largely in the dark about what happened that night, which certainly benefits the film. It is partly the reason why we can most identify with David; we can vividly imagine the doubts and insecurities he feels towards his wife. Why isn’t Diana just open about what happened? That question isn’t really answered. ‘Indecent Proposal’ may have caused some controversy in 1993, 25 years later the film is not nearly as controversial and therefore lacks just that little bit of tension and excitement. The story starts promising, but after the night in question the level drops back to that of an average soap series, with the well-known doubts, intrigues and vicissitudes. Fortunately, we get to look at people like Robert Redford and Woody Harrelson, actors who have already earned their spurs in the profession and who are able to make a mediocre film worthwhile. Like the immensely rich John Gage, Redford is of course a bad man, but one of the most charming kind. He has set his sights on Diana, and is willing to go very far for it, but does say ‘we won’t do anything you don’t want’ right before they go into bed together. Partly because of this, we see the immoral character in Diana: initially because she accepts the proposal (out of love for David, so that he can get out of money problems?), then doesn’t want to say what happened that night (out of shame?) and can’t/dare to make no choice for David or John. Her motives remain a mystery. David is the most honest character (a bit against character for Harrelson, as it is for Redford); where you think on paper that Diana is the victim, in practice David turns out to be the big loser in the whole. Director Adrian Lyne has made sexually charged films his trademark – he is also the man behind ‘9 ½ Weeks’ (1986), ‘Fatal Attraction’ (1987) and ‘Lolita’ (1997) – and knows how to create the right atmosphere effortlessly .

The fact that ‘Indecent Proposal’ falls short here and there is mainly due to the screenplay and the fact that the film has lost some impact in 25 years. Nevertheless, this film looks nice, thanks to Redford, Harrelson and a beautiful Moore.

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