Blu-ray Review: Indecent Proposal (1993)

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Much like Adrian Lyne's previous films Fatal Attraction, Jacob's Ladder, 9 1/2 Weeks and Flashdance-- Indecent Proposal was one of those movies that provided endless conversational fodder for viewers.

And without a strong visual shocker like Michael Douglas and Glenn Close's nearly violent sex scene over the kitchen sink or the boiling of the bunny rabbit in Fatal Attraction to bring it all back into my mind--when I began the Blu-ray for Proposal, I realized that although I'd seen it before roughly fifteen or sixteen years earlier, the only thing I remembered about it was just how much audiences couldn't stop talking about the "indecent proposal" posed by billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford) in the film.

In a conversation that one initially assumes is hypothetical-- like one of those casual "what would you take on a desert island" or "if you had to sleep with person a or b who would it be," games people play, Gage turns serious. In doing so, he shifts his attention from shooting pool to his real joy of playing with people instead by offering the financially desperate yet desperately in love couple Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson's Diana and David Murphy a million dollar opportunity.

Of course, instead of betting them a corner pocket shot on the billiard table-- Gage decides to use money as the pool cue to fire a ball straight at the heart of their very relationship.

You see, after Diana caught Gage's eye in Las Vegas while stuffing chocolates in her knapsack in a couture boutique in the hotel lobby, Gage became instantly smitten. And although it's hard to blame his interest in Moore's natural loveliness when she slips the hanger of a gorgeous dress over her head to explore the difference from her blue collar attire in the mirror, Gage seems especially hooked because of the events that follow. For unlike the dress-- he wasn't able to manage to discover Diana's invisible price-tag with a tired form of gold card seduction.

Making a predictably cocky and grand gesture to try and buy her the dress (a la Pretty Woman or Shopgirl), Diana sees through the gesture immediately, confidently noting that yes-- although the dress is for sale-- the woman in the dress would never be.

Of course, Gage refuses to accept defeat and won't let a small thing like a wedding ring, vows, or basic human decency get in his way by adhering to his strict belief that-- since the world has never proven this cynical belief wrong before-- every single thing on this planet and especially its inhabitants are for sale.

Therefore, he lays his plans out casually over pool before getting into specifics, offering to give the Murphy couple-- who'd foolishly journeyed to Sin City in the hopes of turning David's five thousand dollar loan into the fifty thousand dollars they need to save their home and credit rating-- one million dollars if they agree to prostitute Mrs. Murphy out for one night of "just sex." Of course, Redford being smoldering Redford-- he never says sex or even prostitute but it's all implied when he aims his checkbook at the Murphys via the line, "a million dollars for one night with your wife."

The most revealing thing about the film so far and Redford's utter conviction in his performance is in the way the three participants in the conversation react. Obviously Diana is the one who quickly raises to anger, Harrelson's David is curiously stunned but intriguingly silent, and Redford continues to ask them to seriously consider it, despite his sexist posing of the question to David's use of "his wife" and Diana's assertion that David would tell him to go to hell.

Still, having been hit hard by the recession-- the two young lovers who've been together since high school spend a sleepless night tossing and turning as they try to psychologically guess what the other one is thinking-- neither one wanting to come right out and make the proposition as coolly as Gage had. At long last, ultimately Diana--perhaps in response to her husband's quiet reply to the offer-- tells him that she would go through with it to solve their financial mess.

Although some critics once again charged this film like some of Lyne's others with anti-feminism or ill treatment of female characters (and given the fetishistic Flashdance-- to just name one-- they have a point)-- with Demi Moore's brilliant bravery and restraint against playing Diana as a victim or a temptress, unexpectedly she becomes the only logical individual in the film.

I found it utterly fascinating that she had to be the one to put the men's true thoughts and wishes into action since they were too gutless to do it themselves. For we sense right from the start that Diana is much stronger than her husband and moreover far more intelligent and clear-headed than both men put together despite some early over-the-top scenes of temper tantrums in her marriage to David the slob.

Additionally and aside from sadly putting his needs ahead of hers by taking a real estate position to support him while he finished architectural school, taking out an enormous loan so that he can build his dream place, and in fact going along with him on the mindless scheme to win back the money in Vegas-- she knows right away instinctively and intuitively that David is afraid to ask her to agree to Gage's offer but it's what he is precisely hoping she'd do.

And Moore plays these levels beautifully-- balancing the disappointment in her spineless husband with her love for him-- in one of her earliest and strongest roles. Furthermore, her performance-- along with a surprisingly poignant portrayal by Woody Harrelson who must go through the entire spectrum of emotions opposite a woman who (as we saw in Ghost) can seemingly cry in two seconds flat, keeps us engrossed even when we disagree with the characters or the contrived plot-line.

Likewise although we may have a hard time accepting the melodramatic and only-in-the-movies proposal seriously-- nonetheless, the screenplay from Mystic Pizza's Amy Holden Jones (based on Jack Engelhard's novel) ensures you're able to empathize with every main character throughout even when inevitably we realize that despite the fact the Diana and David vow never to discuss in-depth the "solution" to their financial crisis, their money problems have been replaced with far more serious ones concerning their relationship with each other.

While Lyne imbues it with a classic Douglas Sirk-like '50s style romanticism-- there's no mistaking Indecent Proposal for anything but a contemporary tale and one that makes its Blu-ray release stir conversation once again given our current economic recession, despite a few clunks in logic and an over-reliance on cutesy "Did I Ever Tell You I Love You?" dialogue repetitions among the husband and wife who keep calling each other "D."

For, in its way, Indecent Proposal is a much more honest yet deeply unsettling and cynical re-imagining of Pretty Woman blended of course with its most obvious comparison via the Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker comedy Honeymoon in Vegas.

Obviously, Pretty Woman is definitely the more entertaining and enjoyable romantic comedy since Proposal's flaws can't be hidden and it's not exactly the ideal set-up for a romance despite a few breathtakingly gorgeous shots like the cliched auction in the rain near-finale.

However, unlike Woman which I've always found far more anti-feminist than Lyne's films despite my appreciation for its humor, Proposal actually gets bonus points for a much needed reality check in the development of a budding romantic relationship between Diana and John.

For, since it never lets you forget that although Diana and John Gage may spark just like Richard Gere's "Prince Charming" and Julia Roberts' "Cinderella," it's smart and noble enough to know that in the real world any relationship that began with the exchange of money for sex is doomed from the start and you can't hide prostitution for what it is, no matter how much you try and distract the senses with shots of Rodeo Drive and a pop music soundtrack.

The Blu-ray transfer of the film is above average with only a few slightly grainy close-ups most notably in scenes with low lighting as in the aforementioned auction in the rain and final reunion of the lovers in the fog it appears to look as beautiful as it did back in its '93 theatrical release.

Yet in the same turn, my sole technical complaint for the presentation is the sound which seems to be a continual challenge for Paramount in finding a good balance between dialogue, music, and background noise as my remote climbed anywhere from forty to seventy in numerous sequences.

With the bonus of Adrian Lyne's quiet and contemplative commentary serving as the sole extra doesn't make the expense of the Blu-ray an enticing enough proposal for buyers-- for those who haven't seen it in years or at least back since it was a hot water cooler topic of discussion, it's well worth the rental as I was surprised to discover that it was much better than I remembered.