We know the face, by now, almost too well. The glittery charmer’s eyes, the long hair swept back with rakish panache, the mouth whose corners bend down into a pout of cold rage — it’s Michael Douglas under siege again, battling to save his job, his marriage, his sexual honor. Fight on, beleaguered white man! In Disclosure, the forces of darkness close in on Tom Sanders (Douglas), an executive at a state-of-the-art Seattle computer company, with queasy multiplicity. Inside the deceptively homey brick-and-glass offices of DigiCom, Tom’s coworkers are dropping hints that he isn’t going to have his job for long, and his PC screen blinks with sinister messages-E-mail from hell. We’re in the gleaming heart of the beast, the citadel of high-tech cutthroat capitalism. People grin and describe themselves as ”friends,” but no one can be trusted, not the happy shark (Donald Sutherland) who runs the company, not the wisecracking techno-geeks (Dennis Miller and Nicholas Sadler) who invent the software. And certainly not Tom’s new boss, Meredith Johnson, an executive man-eater in spike heels played with whiplash allure by Demi Moore. We’ve never seen Moore in this chic-bitch mode before, but we’ve definitely seen this character. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by Michael Douglas.
Disclosure, a glibly entertaining corporate thriller based on Michael Crichton’s best-seller, might almost be the third installment in an unofficial trilogy that began with Fatal Attraction (1987) and Basic Instinct (1992). Once again, Douglas heeds the call of his hormones and pays the piper. This time, though, the film tackles a heavy sociological theme, the explosive issue of sexual harassment. At least, it pretends to tackle it. Screenwriter Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show) and director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Diner) have faithfully reproduced Crichton’s outrageous scenario, which hinges on the notion of a woman as lusty, heartless harasser. Provocative? Of course it is. It’s calculated to be provocative. Crichton may believe that he’s enabling men, the defendants in the vast majority of sexual-harassment cases, to view a grisly situation from the other side. The reality is that he came up with a showbiz hook too perverse to be ignored. The movie, like the book, is a work of opportunistic gamesmanship, a luridly farfetched conspiracy thriller masquerading as an inquiry into the zeitgeist.
You can’t take Disclosure very seriously, yet the film has been made with cleverness and skill, and with a keen eye for the latest styles in corporate paranoia and ruthlessness. Attanasio has a rare talent for dialogue rhythm; his lines percolate with energy and wit. And Levinson has bounced back from his twin disasters, Toys and Jimmy Hollywood. He moves his camera through the amazing DigiCom set with ingenious fluidity, so that the office, with its gizmos and weird, winding geography, seems practically as alive as the people in it.
On the eve of DigiCom’s purchase by a larger company, Tom is passed over for a promotion, and the job goes to Meredith, a corporate climber with whom he had a hot relationship years before. Inviting him up to her office for a late-night conference, she uncorks a bottle of wine, teasing him with glimpses of perfectly toned leg. Tom, who has a family now, isn’t interested in rekindling an old affair. But Meredith, an icy vamp in jet-black designer outfits and hair to match, pushes and prods and undermines his defenses. Before he knows what’s happening, he’s kissing her, then tearing at her clothes, then allowing her to perform oral sex on him. It’s a minute or two before he gets control of himself enough to yell, ”No!” (as much to himself as to her).
Literally speaking, Meredith doesn’t force Tom to do anything. What she does do is use her lustiness in a deliberately nasty, dominating way, and this teasing, haughty aggression actually turns him on. What’s sure to make Disclosure the date movie of the season is the sexiness of the role reversal, the way that Tom, his protests to the contrary, accepts, and for a moment revels in, being Meredith’s passive object. The next day, he learns that she has accused him of sexual harassment — a lie she tells, apparently, to spite him for rejecting her. Her accusation could mean his job, just when he has a chance of getting rich from the merger. And so he fights back by making the very same accusation against her.
Does he believe that she’s guilty? Does the movie believe it? It does-and I think it’s dead wrong. (The whole point of the sex scene is that it’s consensual, that Tom participates because he’s aroused.) Nevertheless, these questions might have had more resonance had Moore been playing a fleshed-out character instead of a mythical movie witch. For all of Moore’s finesse, Meredith lacks the sympathetic human undercurrents that Glenn Close brought to Fatal Attraction, and the result is that Disclosure is the far thinner film.
The hearing in which Meredith and Tom make their case before the company’s top executives is both the movie’s dramatic fulcrum and a complete red herring. In the end, the true subject of Disclosure isn’t sexual harassment at all but the way the familiar sins of big business — greed, duplicity, depersonalization — acquire new force in an era of advanced technology, an era that fetish-izes control. Tom’s life may not be threatened, but all his power as an individual has been leached away. To get it back, he’ll have to harness the same impersonal will that’s been used against him. In the climax, he dons a virtual-reality headset and ”wanders around” the inside of an unfolding sci-fi mausoleum. Visually, the sequence is so transfixing that only when it’s over do we realize that it boils down to Tom busting into someone’s filing cabinet. It’s a fitting payoff for a movie that’s consistently entertaining but only virtual food for thought. B+