"Disclosure" is polite pulp fiction, a reasonable rendition of potentially risible material. Fueled by the high-voltage star power of Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, this lavishly appointed screen version of Michael Crichton's page-turner about sexual harassment has what it takes to deliver plenty of year-end bounty into Warner Bros.' coffers, although it might have been even more commercial had it been more shamelessly trashy.
“Disclosure” is polite pulp fiction, a reasonable rendition of potentially risible material. Fueled by the high-voltage star power of Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, this lavishly appointed screen version of Michael Crichton’s page-turner about sexual harassment and corporate power has what it takes to deliver plenty of year-end bounty into Warner Bros.’ coffers, although it might have been even more commercial had it been more shamelessly trashy.
The novel was an attempt at a zeitgeist grabber, with the twist that a man accused of sexual harassment in the workplace is, in fact, the “victim” himself. Although this element reps an important plot point, the story actually falls rather easily into the tradition of corporate melodramas sparked by manipulation, power plays, deceit and greed.
The sex element is ever-present, but ultimately becomes something of a secondary issue to the computerese and techno-babble that is Crichton’s first language.
In this sense, those expecting another “Fatal Attraction” or “Indecent Proposal” might be disappointed by director Barry Levinson’s refusal to emphasize the sleaziest elements of the story and to work the audience up into a primal emotional frenzy. On the other hand, those dreading that approach might be pleasantly surprised to find a tolerably involving story of office intrigue told in the high Hollywood manner.
Paul Attanasio’s dense, carefully constructed script swiftly presents Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas) as a respectably reformed ’60s type who’s gone the yuppie, corporate route but still wears longish hair and a backpack. Cozily ensconced a ferry ride away from Seattle with his lawyer wife (Caroline Goodall) and two kids, Tom is fully expecting a promotion at his high-tech firm, DigiCom, now that a big merger is imminent.
But he’s laid low by the news that boss Bob Garvin (Donald Sutherland) instead decides to bring in outsider Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore) for the big job.
In his free-swinging single days, Tom had a hot and heavy thing with Meredith , which she seems intent upon reviving during a wine-enhanced private evening meeting. The Big Scene takes place a half-hour in, as Meredith gets Tom to give her a massage as a prelude to quite literally devouring him sexually.
He keeps saying no while his body is saying yes, but when he abruptly retreats from fully consummating the act, Meredith, her body fairly popping out of her black lingerie, erupts in full fury, promising a wrathful vengeance on her fleeing ex-lover and professional underling.
The next day, Meredith drops the bombshell, claiming that Tom sexually harassed her at their meeting. Offered a transfer to Texas as a way of avoiding unpleasantness, Tom instantly engages a smart, feisty woman lawyer (Roma Maffia) while issuing faintly heard denials and threats of a lawsuit, which Garvin wants to avoid so as not to upset his $ 100 million merger.
The stickiest part for Tom is telling his wife, which one of his co-workers does instead, and the film’s worst written, most unconvincing scenes are those in which Tom tries to explain it all to his mate.
On Wednesday in the Monday-to-Friday time frame, the parties move into private mediation before a judge, where the principals regurgitate, in clinical detail, their versions of what and who went down in Meredith’s office. As the film is told entirely from Tom’s p.o.v., he tells the truth according to the way the encounter has been shown, while Meredith flagrantly lies, playing the victim and the one with cause to be afraid.
When Garvin sees that Tom is effectively standing his ground, he offers to let him stay at DigiCom, with a bonus thrown in for good measure. But an E-mail message from “A Friend” warns him, “Nothing is as it seems,” and only through the marvels of high-tech communication and virtual reality experiences is Tom able to combat the high-stakes warfare that his adversaries initiate in the endgame before the merger.
In typical Crichton fashion, it’s a story designed to push the audience’s buttons in elemental ways and, like “Rising Sun,” weighted to make people’s blood boil about the inequities at large today in the big bad business world.
Levinson and Attanasio don’t ignore the basics of the tale, but don’t indulge them either, subjectively approaching Tom’s character to maximize dramatic involvement and treating the most explosive aspects of the story more rationally than emotionally. This makes for a cooler film than the one that, say, Adrian Lyne might have made from the same material, but one that’s also a bit more dramatically credible given the overall concocted feel.
Back in the familiar “Fatal Attraction”-“Basic Instinct” arena with a predatory female, Douglas is very good indeed as the put-upon man forced to play hardball for the first time with the big boys and girls. Moore’s dragon lady is strictly a one-dimensional creation defined by manipulativeness and greed, as no attempt is made to delve into her psychology, but her ripe black-widow looks and malevolent demeanor work perfectly for the intent of the film.
Sutherland and Goodall are good in the largest supporting roles, while many other secondary parts have been exceedingly well cast and acted, notably by Maffia as Tom’s resourceful attorney, Dylan Baker as Garvin’s two-faced hatchet man, Dennis Miller and Nicholas Sadler as Tom’s techo-geniuses and Allan Rich as Meredith’s old-pro lawyer.
Production designer Neil Spisak’s main office set is a splendid creation that gives the film much of its character; it’s got the look of an old space completely renovated for high-tech purposes, although one could argue that its open, all-glass expanse creates an utterly impossible setting for sexual harassment, or secrets of any kind.
Anthony Pierce-Roberts’ lensing of atmospheric Seattle locations is lustrous, Stu Linder’s editing is clamped down tight, and Ennio Morricone’s score builds tension wherever possible.
Meredith Johnson - Demi Moore
Bob Garvin - Donald Sutherland
Susan Hendler - Caroline Goodall
Philip Blackburn - Dylan Baker
Catherine Alvarez - Roma Maffia
Marc Lewyn - Dennis Miller
Ben Heller - Allan Rich
Don Cherry - Nicholas Sadler
Stephanie Kaplan - Rosemary Forsyth
Mary Anne Hunter - Suzie Plakson
Cindy Chang - Jacqueline Kim
John Conley Jr. - Joe Urla