Starring: Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson, Robert Redford, Seymour Cassel, Oliver Platt
Rated R for Sexuality and Language
One million dollars for a night with your spouse. Would you do it? The obvious answer would be no, but if you're broke and a handsome billionaire makes this offer to you, it looks mighty tempting.
I love morality plays that examine all sides of an issue. Presented effectively, they can make for riveting viewing. In a not so strange way, I was reminded of "Into the Blue," where a quartet of beach bums were presented with the chance to make billions if they were willing to commit some illegal (and potentially deadly) activities. "Indecent Proposal" is a more adult film and a more low-key affair, but it is nonetheless compelling.
Diana (Moore) and David (Harrelson) were high school sweethearts who eloped shortly after high school. He's an architect and she's a realtor, and they take the chance in investing in their dream home that David designed. But then the economy went belly up; David lost his job and Diana hasn't sold a house in six months. The bank is calling in their loan and they're without a way to pay it. Desperate, they head to Vegas to try their luck. That's were they meet a charming billionaire named John Gage (Redford). He believes that anything can be bought and sold, including human emotions. To prove his point, he offers them a cool million for a night with Diana. After initially rejecting it, they agree, believing that they can just get past it if they pretend that it never happened. But things aren't that simple, especially since Gage won't stay away from Diana.
What I like about this movie is that the characters are smart about how they talk about their feelings and emotions. One of my biggest pet peeves is for characters who are too macho or repressed to express themselves (Harrelson has gone on to play a number of these characters, such as in "The Messenger," probably the only time in cinema history where it worked). Fortunately, that's not the case here. All three characters are intelligent enough to know what this really is. This is an emotional con game. Gage knows it. Diana and David know it. The latter two simply think that they can ignore it. But human emotions, particularly when it comes to love, are volatile and complicated. Neither of them are aware of the price they're really going to have to pay for an agreed upon infidelity.
The performances are key to the film, and fortunately, they work. Demi Moore has the meatiest part as a strong woman who has basically turned herself into a whore for a million dollars. Moore plays strong women, and that put her in conflict with the film's director, Adrian Lyne, who wanted her to be more vulnerable. Tensions between them got so heated that Harrelson frequently had to intervene in their arguments. It was only in editing that Lyne realized that Moore's performance was exactly what he wanted, and he dutifully apologized to her. That strength makes Diana into someone who is complicit in her own actions, which is much more interesting than a naïve doormat. Woody Harrelson is his usual affable self, but while he agreed to the deal, he still suffers from a lot of pain and trust issues. Robert Redford is also very good, using his effortless charm as a cover for his being a world class bastard. His motives aren't just sex, but proving that he can seduce Diana with money. So even after the deed is complete, he manipulates their lives to prove his point.
Normally, a film's visuals aren't something bother to criticize a film for. It's rare that set and costume design can hurt a film, but in this case they do. The film was made in 1993, and fashions have changed since then. What was chic then is tacky now, and that diminishes the film's credibility a little bit. Gage doesn't seem as seductive as he probably did 23 years ago. One thing that hasn't dated is the score by John Barry. It's wonderful, bringing to mind his Oscar-winning work in "Out of Africa."
"Indecent Proposal" has a fantastic first 90 minutes. Then it falls into the trap that I was hoping it would avoid. It doesn't sink the film because the performances ensure that it works as intended, but the ending presents a disconnect from the majority of the film. I liked the film on the whole, but I wish it had the conviction to follow the story to its natural conclusion. Whether it was the source material or studio interference, I don't know, but it doesn't fit. As much as we want a happy ending, sometimes a bleak one is more appropriate.