Wednesday 24 April 2024

Sliver (1993)

Sliver is a 1993 erotic thriller directed by Phillip Noyce and scripted by Joe Eszterhas from a novel by Ira Levin. Sharon Stone, at that time just about the hottest property in Hollywood, stars.

Carly Norris (Sharon Stone) is a book editor who has just moved into a luxury high-rise New York apartment building, known as the Sliver Building. She finds out that the girl who had the apartment before her, a girl named Naomi, jumped to her death from the window. Carly isn’t too disturbed by this, even when people keep telling her that she bears an uncanny resemblance to Naomi. Eventually Carly will discover that there have been three slightly mysterious deaths in this building.

Carly immediately attracts the attention of the two sleaziest men in New York City, a writer named Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger) and a young guy named Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin).

What the audience knows and Carly doesn’t know is that she is being watched. Someone has set up an extraordinarily sophisticated and elaborate surveillance system in the building and is watching everyone’s every move on a huge bank of monitors.

This is obviously going to be a movie about voyeurism but there are several layers of voyeurism going on. Some unknown person has bought Carly a telescope. Carly enjoys using it to spy on people in a neighbouring building. She likes to watch people having sex. Carly is both an object of voyeurism and a bit of a voyeur herself.

As in the previous movie written by Eszterhas, Basic Instinct (which of course also starred Sharon Stone), there are both men and women in this story who enjoy playing dangerous erotic games. Like Catherine in Basic Instinct Carly is excited by such games.

Carly slowly comes to realise that there are things she doesn’t know which she needs to know. She still doesn’t think she’s in any real danger. She likes to think that she’s a woman who is always in control. Maybe this time she isn’t in control.

Sliver was savaged by critics and failed to set the box office alight. As so often happens most people therefore approach this movie assuming that it is going to be a bad movie. I prefer to avoid such assumptions. Some of my all-time favourite movies were hated by both critics and the public.

In the early 90s Joe Eszterhas was the most successful most highly paid screenwriter in Hollywood. He was paid a record salary for writing Basic Instinct and the film was a mammoth hit. And that’s about the time that critics turned against him. After that the knives were out for him.

It’s easy to see why. Eszterhas wrote movies that made people uncomfortable. People want reassurance from movies. Even when they watch scary movies or horror movies they want to be reassured that their prejudices and their straightforward conventional way of understanding the world are correct. They don’t mind being disturbed for a while but when they reach the ending they like to feel that it confirms that the world works the way they thought it worked. They don’t want to be too challenged. And while critics will tolerate some artiness they like the artiness to be of the sort with which they’re familiar.

Basic Instinct was a bit unsettling. If Eszterhas seemed to stumble after that they would go for the jugular. Which they did, with both Sliver and Showgirls (a movie I love unreservedly).

So what exactly went wrong with Sliver? The answer to that is that’s nothing very much wrong with this movie. The plot is rather neat, with some decent misdirection and multiple twists. The audience knows a lot more of what is going on than Carly does. That’s always a sound recipe for suspense. The audience knows quite a bit, but not everything. There are vital things we don’t know. That provides the mystery. This is good old-fashioned classic film-making and it’s well executed.

The acting is fine. William Baldwin and Tom Berenger are very creepy but they’re not supposed to be warm loveable characters. Sharon Stone is excellent, a sympathetic heroine who is just prickly enough to be interesting and to avoid being bland or simpering. The secret to Carly is that she grossly overestimates her ability to stay in control and she underestimates her own vulnerability. She just isn’t cut out to play the games that she becomes involved in. Stone has no difficulty persuading us to care about Carly.

The Sliver Building itself becomes a character in the film. It gradually becomes more menacing, the sort of building in which bad things could happen. The room with all the monitors is the kind of thing that a crazed obsessive would create and it’s certainly disturbing.

Noyce doesn’t try to be too clever. He has an effective script, a good setting and a great lead actress so he doesn’t want to distract us with too much visual trickery. Maybe a De Palma would have been a better choice as director but Noyce does OK.

Lots of people hate the ending. If you want everything tied up neatly with a pretty bow you might be disappointed. I thought it worked.

Most of the hate directed at this movie (and the amount of hate it attracted and still attracts is astonishing) seems to be directed against Eszterhas. He liked to be provocative and he wasn’t interested in spoon-feeding his audience. It’s also possible that some people were upset by the moral ambiguity of the heroine. This is a movie that doesn’t simply take the line that voyeurism is bad. It accepts the uncomfortable fact that voyeurism is very seductive, and that women can be seduced by it as well. Like Basic Instinct this film is not afraid to admit that female sexuality has its dark side.

I’ll go out on a limb here. Sliver has some flaws but overall it’s an intelligent provocative erotic thriller and I’m going to highly recommend it.

I believe that the older DVD release is the only uncut version available. Apparently the more recent Blu-Ray is a censored version, which is why I bought the DVD. And the DVD transfer is very good.


Randall Landers said...

Great review. What was censored from the BluRay?

dfordoom said...

Randall Landers said...
Great review. What was censored from the BluRay?

I honestly don't know, I just heard it was a censored version.