Over the past couple of years, Disney and Dreamworks have been engaged in a pissing contest to see who can release similarly-themed films either first or with the biggest splash. Deep Impact versus Armegeddon. A Bug’s Life versus Ants. Now, Disney has beaten itself to the punch by releasing two apeman movies back-to-back.
Of course, Tarzan is an animated feature about a man raised by apes in the jungles of Africa and is based on the well-known Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. Instinct, on the other hand, is a live action feature about a man studying apes in the jungles of Africa and was loosely “suggested” by the little-known novel Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. In the film, brilliant primatologist Ethan Powell (Anthony Hopkins) doesn’t swing from vines, but rather watches the social behaviors of mountain gorillas, who, to his astonishment, accept him, not as one of their own, but as “a man living amongst gorillas.”
This discovery prompts Dr. Powell to forsake his life as a human and return to his natural state, disappearing into the jungles to dwell with a family of gorillas. His life as a human included a wife and daughter who fear the worst, which, of course, happens two years later when Dr. Powell resurfaces in a Rwandan prison, jailed for murdering several men with a wooden club.
Powell, who refuses to speak and, for some reason, possesses uncanny superhuman strength, is transferred to a maximum security prison for the criminally insane in the United States. There, Theo Caulder (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), an ambitious young psychiatrist with designs on writing a book about the wildman, attempts to break Powell’s self-imposed silence and unravel the mystery of one man’s murderous impulses. Through their sessions, the two men discover a series of chilling truths on the nature of man and society.
The story unfolds during interviews between patient and doctor where a series of flashbacks reveal Powell’s journey into the heart of darkness. Unfortunately, this approach from screenwriter Gerald DiPego and director Jon Turteltaub is certainly not the most engaging way to tell a story. However, Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Donald Sutherland (as Caulder’s mentor Ben Hillard) and Maura Tierney (as Powell’s daughter Lyn) and several mountain gorillas lend sterling performances to an otherwise bland production, derivative of both One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and any number of New Age-y jungle movies from the last decade.