Back in the 1960’s the Beatles were telling, preaching, “Can’t Buy Me Love”. Of course this wasn’t a novel concept even then, and Lennon and McCartney certainly didn’t invent the phrase. In 1993 Indecent Proposal came along to question the age old expression. The film sparked one of those cultural philosophical debates that Hollywood loves to start. It meant that people would be talking about the film, and talk about it they did. Television and radio talk shows would spend a great deal of time talking about the morality or ethical questions involved. Experts in morality and psychology would earn a living talking about the subject. It caused quite a stir, but in the end Indecent Proposal was a one trick pony. After the debate got old, the film aged quickly. Watching it again now, it seems almost impossible that it’s really only 16 years old. It seems like decades ago that like a frightening tsunami, it made its splash and disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived.
David (Harrelson) and Diane (Moore) are a young couple very much in love. It’s the kind of ultra-sweet relationship that could send you into insulin shock if you had to watch too much of it. Thankfully the plan here is to put a serious kink into the relationship. David is budding architect, while Diane is a successful real estate broker. Both run into hard times when recession hits and they lose their jobs. Their dreams appear on the brink of disaster. Down to their final cents, David takes a loan of $5000 from his father. As he admits in the film’s narration, it wasn’t nearly enough. They needed 10 times that to get back on their feet. So what do they do? These supposedly educated smart people decide to take the 5 grand to Vegas and turn it into the 50 grand they need. (Why didn’t I think of that?) Bad luck at the tables isn’t the most dangerous thing the couple faces. They meet John Gage (Redford), international billionaire and playboy. Sort of a Bill Gates, if Bill Gates looked like… well… Robert Redford instead of Alfred E. Neuman. Gage notices Diane and is quite taken with her. He befriends the couple to get close to her. After a part one night in his suite, Gage and David are shooting some pool. The conversation turns to wealth and what it can or cannot buy. Diane makes the statement that money can’t buy people or love. Gage proposes to test the concept. He offers the couple one million dollars for one night with Diane. They immediately refuse, but their situation eats at them and they eventually agree. What it does to their lives is predictable and inevitable.
The casting in this film was not only quite brilliant, but very brave. In 1993 Woody Harrelson was known pretty much only for his role as the country bumpkin, Woody, on Cheers. It didn’t help that he shared a first name with his Cheers character, bonding them even more tightly together. With a pretty out there concept, there was already the danger that audiences would find the situation so outrageous that it was more comedy than drama. Harrelson delivered and proved to casting directors that there was more to Harrelson than his alter ego, Woody. Demi Moore was also still a relative unknown. While no object of inspired beauty, she pulls off the part effectively enough. It is a bit hard to believe that Gage could be so taken by her, however. Moore has always had a kind of boyish face that makes her less a likely target for such perceived beauty. The casting of Robert Redford likely sealed the deal here. He is completely at ease in Gage’s skin and acts with such a natural poise that it’s hard not to take the character seriously. Unfortunately, we never comfortably know what to make of Gage. At times it appears as though he’s merely a manipulating SOB who uses his money to ruin lives just for kicks. At other times we get another idea. It’s a testament to Redford that both are equally believable. Two of the best roles actually occur in supporting parts. Oliver Platt is absolutely brilliant as Jeremy, the couple’s lawyer. When asked to address the moral implications of the deal, he clarifies he’s talking about his 5% cut. Billy Bob Thornton plays a friend named Day Tripper, and he is a trip.
The film comes across quite dated, however, and never feels like a must do release on Blu-ray high definition. The subject matter wouldn’t even cause an eyebrow to raise today. Society has moved beyond the point where the plot’s near as interesting as it once was. The film also suffers from the Cinderella ending that makes us feel like even the ethical tale was a bit of a cheat. Without its titillating premise, I’m afraid the only thing indecent about this proposal might be being asked to spring for it again.
Indecent Proposal is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. There’s nothing stunning or stylistic about this image. Colors are completely natural. Lighting’s not always perfect, but it only makes the film appear all the more true to life. You get plenty of sharpness in this high definition transfer. Black levels are solid. It doesn’t look like the techies monkeyed with it very much, so I suspect it’s pretty darn close to the theatrical experience. There are a few film blemishes, but not enough to distract you from the movie.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Audio track does a good job as well. Again the word is natural realism. You get just enough dynamics to fill your theater with sound, but the mix never overdoes it or calls attention to itself. Dialog is clear, and that’s what drives the film.
There is an Audio Commentary with director Adrian Lyne. It’s a port over from the original DVD release, so don’t expect anything new.
The talk is all but forgotten, and the situation isn’t all that salacious any longer. Thus, this becomes merely an old catalog title that likely shouldn’t have jumped so many other good films in line at the Blu-ray factory. Still, it’s not a bad film, and I’m sure that it will offer some nostalgic moments. But like so many things in life, it’s a film whose time has come and gone but still “wants to be something greater than it is”.