Sleek, slick, and supremely sexy, Adrian Lyne’s unconscionably gorgeous erotic drama Nine ½ Weeks is still one of the better cinematic explorations of pure carnal lust, and upon a recent revisit, I was struck by how genuine and sincere the screenplay felt, while being totally consumed by the performances of Mickey Rourke (rarely more appealing) and Kim Basinger (insanely hot). A notorious film at the time of its release, critics were all over the map in their appraisals of the film, and while audiences in America ignored it on a theatrical level, its international release was a massive success, before becoming one of the biggest VHS items of its time.
Released in 1986, Lyne’s glossy and sensational drama was based on the 1978 memoir by Ingeborg Day, with the screenplay written by Sarah Kernochan, Zalman King, and Patricia Louisanna Knop. Basinger is Elizabeth McGraw, a somewhat shy art gallery worker living in New York who enters into a short lived but wildly intense affair with a mysterious Wall Street broker named John Gray (Rourke). Margaret Whitton, David Margulies, Karen Young, and Christine Baranski all co-starred, but this was the Rourke and Basinger show all the way. The chemistry between them is absolutely scalding in this film, with each sexual set piece truly steaming up the camera lens; Hollywood stars rarely share this much on-screen heat.
The genius cinematographer Peter Biziou (The Truman Show, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Mississippi Burning, Monty Python’s Life of Brian) bathed the film in soft, warm light, giving off that special 80’s visual sheen that Lyne and other filmmakers like Alan Parker and Tony Scott helped to cultivate. There’s a pleasant graininess to the imagery, with jet blacks in the foreground and cool, white light from above in many scenes; every single shot in this film was lusciously composed. Jack Nitzsche’s sleazy, romantic, and at-times bombastic musical score heightened every moment, especially in conjunction with the pop-centric soundtrack. Despite being shot in 1984, the film took two years to complete, with the director famously going to great (and emotionally turbulent) lengths to coax blistering performances from his two white-hot leads.
This film is so much better than its reputation, and so much more than an easy target due to its more over-the-top moments. A direct-to-video sequel, Another 9½ Weeks, followed in 1997, while money-hungry producers dished out a direct-to-video prequel in 1998 called The First 9½ Weeks. I haven’t seen either of those titles, so I can’t speak to their merits (or lack thereof), but in terms of hot-blooded cinematic artistry, Lyne always knew how to set pulses racing, exploring provocative themes with a tremendous sense of style. He made so many great films (Fatal Attraction, Jacob’s Ladder, Unfaithful, Lolita) that it’s a shame he wasn’t more prolific.