Sliver (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

On the rebound from a lifeless seven-year marriage and trying to get her personal life back on track, Carly Norris (Sharon Stone) decides on a change in venue and opts to move into an upscale Manhattan high-rise. There she meets a trio of unusual neighbors. Vida (Polly Walker), the girl across the hall, likes cocaine and knows a few too many secrets. Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger) is a successful author who uses every ounce of his charm to snare a date with Carly. Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin) seems normal at first, but it doesn't take Carly long to determine that he's hiding something. Despite the oddities of some of the building's tenants, Carly settles comfortably into her new home while someone watches her on a bank of video screens that show every room in every apartment of the Sliver building.

As many studies indicate, voyeurism is one of America's secret pastimes. It doesn't have to be peeping through a bedroom window or watching a couple making love through a telescope. The seductive power of voyeurism is the knowledge that you're watching something real, not acted or scripted, and the players in the drama have no idea they're under scrutiny. It's addictive, and those hooked on it can become more involved in living the lives of others than their own.

Ira Levin's novel Sliver explores the dangerous obsession that can come about as a result of continual voyeurism. While the book is not a psychological or artistic milestone, it makes for compulsive page-turning. The story is entertaining and focused (until the end), and the characters seem real. In the decisions made to turn the novel into a movie, all of that was lost.

In the movie, voyeurism is a plot device in a script that goes nowhere and whose effete and implausible resolution leaves 50% of the audience's questions unanswered. If we really cared about the movie or its poorly-developed characters, this might be a blow, but Sliver is so ineptly constructed that its abrupt conclusion is likely to provoke little response.

Personally, I don't have a problem with a movie changing the story of the book from which it has been adapted, as long as the changes are sensible and effective. Sliver, which rips apart the foundation of Ira Levin's novel (going so far as to change the identity of the killer), is a butcher's job -- a hodgepodge of stuff from the book and Joe Eszterhas' pen. The strengths of the original story are muted and the weaknesses magnified. The ending is nowhere to be found, and what appears in the movie is so disjointed and contradictory that it leaves the viewer feeling cold and cheated.

As if it isn't bad enough that the script needs a major re-write, this lackluster production suffers from other problems. None of the three major players are in top form. Sharon Stone, who was effectively over-the-top as the femme fatale of Basic Instinct, shows a lack of aptitude for playing the woman-in-distress. Her emotional range is virtually non-existent. William Baldwin's portrayal is too bland for a character with Zeke's supposed depth of passion. Tom Berenger is boring, and little that we see or learn about Jack Landsford makes much sense. The gem in the rough of Sliver is Polly Walker (the spoiled heiress of Enchanted April, who Phillip Noyce also directed in Patriot Games), although she's on-screen for too few scenes.

Production-wise, Sliver has the look and feel of something from MTV. The incidental music is intrusive and the quick-cuts are distracting. There is also a sense of heavy editing. At least one scene explicitly referred to has been cut. With thrillers, it's difficult to say who will like what, but, frankly, there's not enough in this movie to satisfy anyone. Sliver will surely be among 1993's worst.

Sliver (United States, 1993)

Director: Phillip Noyce
Cast: Sharon Stone, William Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Martin Landau, Polly Walker
Screenplay: Joe Eszterhas based on the novel by Ira Levin
Music: Howard Shore
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 1:46
U.S. Release Date: 1993-05-21
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Nudity, Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: