However, when one sits down to watch Instinct, all of this proves to be a massive cheat. The film certainly starts out in the vein of The Silence of the Lambs with the trainee entering the dark prison lair to get inside the head of the crazed Anthony Hopkins. In surely one of the strangest series of doglegs any film has taken, what starts out as a serial killer thriller then unfolds into a variant on Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey (1990) as it explores Anthony Hopkinss past as an ape anthropologist. It then takes a further dogleg and becomes a rebel-takes-a-lone-stance-against-a-corrupt-penal-institution film of which it has substantially borrowed from both One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1975) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994). In fact, what starts out as a Silence of the Lambs clone ends up bizarrely inverting itself to the point where the imprisoned killer turns out to be someone whose purpose concludes in giving the investigating psychologist a trite positive thinking message about standing up against the system. By the end, Instinct is not even a horror film, even though the film has been pitched to this genre.
Director Jon Turteltaub has assembled a good cast. Anthony Hopkins rises to expected form and Cuba Gooding Jr provides a lively nemesis. The muchly underrated Maura Tierney does what she does well projecting a plaintively honest strength. Stan Winston turns in some incredibly convincing apes. Jon Turteltaub has a fair ability to get inside a scene and draw out its emotional strength and he makes the confrontations between Cuba Gooding Jr and Anthony Hopkins work well. Turteltaubs downside is that his films end up making a good deal out of simplistic emotional homilies. Here the film makes an absurd analogy between the poaching of endangered species and the need for one person to live outside institutional conformity. Moreover, the way that Turteltaub characterizes the people inside the prison draws on simplistic cliches that of good underdog prisoners and cruel and sadistic guards in the worst ways. It is a cue the film seems to have taken directly from the same (although more sophisticatedly presented) dialectic in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Unfortunately, the idea of representing a prison wing of criminally insane killers and sexual offenders as child-like innocents and underdogs feels like a dangerous misconception.
Jon Turteltaub had begun directing with 3 Ninjas (1992), Cool Runnings (1993) and While You Were Sleeping (1995), all of which are films pitched at easy box-office appeal. Turteltaubs biggest success was the action film National Treasure (2004) and its sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007). Within the genre, Jon Turteltaub had previously made Phenomenon (1996) with John Travolta as a man who gains expanded mental abilities, the Disney fantasy film The Kid (2000) with Bruce Willis meeting his childhood self and The Sorcerers Apprentice (2010). Turteltaub has also executive produced and directed some of the post-holocaust tv series Jericho (2006-8) and the horror series Harpers Island (2009-10).
(Winner for Best Makeup Effects at this sites Best of 1999 Awards).