Disclosure (United States, 1994)
Recently, Barry Levinson's career has been on the skids. After two critical and popular disasters (the overblown, overbudgeted Toys and the lackluster Jimmy Hollywood), the director is in need of a success. With this adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel, he apparently has found the tonic for his woes. Regardless of what the critics say, Disclosure has the earmarks of a major winter hit.
As a thriller, this movie is effective and gripping, if occasionally contrived as a result of overplotting. However, as an examination of a pervasive societal problem, Disclosure's success is questionable. The woman-sexually-harassing-the-man situation seems suspiciously like a male knee-jerk reaction to the issue rather than the unique "twist" it is set up to be (imagine the likely differences in a Disclosure penned by a female author). An incident of relatively "benign" harassment of a woman by a man is thrown in almost gratuitously.
Tom and Susan Sanders (Michael Douglas and Caroline Goodall) are a well-matched couple. Affluent and co-supportive, they have a nice house, two children, and prosperous careers. Tom is expecting a promotion when his company, Digicom, enters into a corporate merger -- a merger made possible in large part because of one of Tom's projects: Arcamax, a stand-alone CD ROM player that works twice as fast as any commercially-available product.
Tom doesn't get the raise, however. Instead, his prospective position is given to Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore), an outsider who coincidentally used to be Tom's lover. Worried that his job might be eliminated, Tom agrees to an evening meeting alone with his new boss. Once there, he discovers that she's more interested in renewing a personal relationship than discussing work. Apparently unwilling to take "no" for an answer, Meredith threatens that if Tom leaves her unsatisfied, she'll ruin him.
The advertisements for this film play up the sexual harassment issue, but that particular element of Disclosure is really little more than a plot device. It's crucially important to the story, but there's little new or surprising in its method of presentation, and certainly nothing to spark the kind of controversy that swirled around David Mamet's Oleanna (moreso the play than the film). Ultimately, this movie is a sort of Fatal Attraction in the workplace (Douglas has made a career out of getting involved with "dangerous" women). Sexual harassment is almost a red herring -- the real focus of Disclosure is office politics, corporate backstabbing, and greed.
Demi Moore, often cast in "nice" roles, enjoys this opportunity to bear her claws. She slinks and struts her way through the role of Meredith, drawing audience hatred the way a magnet collects iron filings. Even as bland as Michael Douglas' Tom is, it's impossible not to sympathize with him because of the forces, spearheaded by Meredith, arrayed against him. Donald Sutherland is suitably oily and distasteful as the corporate exec who is determined to emerge clean from the scandal -- no matter which way it breaks. Roma Maffia plays the abrasive, savvy lawyer hired by Tom to handle his case.
Disclosure is a great crowd-pleaser, scripted by men who understand exactly how a typical audience likes to be entertained. Together, Crichton, Levinson, and screenwriter Paul Attanasio create a situation, present a sympathetic protagonist and a thoroughly-dislikeable villain, bend and twist the plot, then come up with a resolution that has everyone clapping. At one-hundred twenty-eight minutes, the film is long, but its crisp pacing keeps it moving through the entire length. And the use of sexual harassment serves the dual purpose of giving Meredith her fangs and getting the audience on Tom's side.
Dramatically, Disclosure isn't especially potent, but it isn't drama that Crichton and Levinson are striving for. On its own terms -- the fear of lost security that many thrillers prey upon -- Disclosure works, and that's all that anyone can reasionably ask from this kind of motion picture.
Disclosure (United States, 1994)
Cast: Michael Douglas, Demi Moore, Donald Sutherland, Caroline Goodall, Roma Maffia
Screenplay: Paul Attanasio based on the novel by Michael Crichton
Cinematography: Tony Pierce-Roberts
Music: Ennio Morricone
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers