MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for adult situations and violence.

Reviewed by: Todd Adams

Moral Rating: Average
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Older Teen to Adult
Genre: Drama
Length: 2 hr. 6 min.
Year of Release: 1999
USA Release: June 4, 1999
Cover Graphic from Instinct
Featuring Anthony Hopkins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Donald Sutherland, Maura Tierney, George Dzundza
Director Jon Turteltaub
Producer Barbara Boyle, Michael Taylor
Distributor Buena Vista Pictures

Why would a man who loves nature and lives in its beauty become an unapproachable criminal convicted of murder? “Instinct” is the story of this man and this process.

Dr. Ethin Powell (Anthony Hopkins) is a primatologist brought back from the jungles of Rwanda as a murderer of park wardens. He has become more animal than human—and faces the death sentence. Theo Caulder (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a psychologist, enters Dr. Powells penitentiary to spend time with him and to try to uncover his mysteries. Beyond the prison walls, Theo Caulder probes the walls of Dr. Powell, and is surprised at what he finds there.

“Instinct” contains violent scenes, but is much less offensive than today’s “norm”. The plot is somewhat heavy, dealing with murder and its ramifications. Yet, the theme is worthwhile and uplifting in my view. Without being overly wishy washy spiritually, “Instinct” makes a strong point for the care and value of God’s creation.

I can recommend “Instinct” primarily on the basis of solid acting, a worthwhile theme, and an original enough storyline. Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr. provide excellent performances in their patient/psychologist roles (and not necessarily in that order). The development of the story unfolds well enough, and a pro-environment message is certainly conveyed. “Instinct” is far from a blockbuster though, and falls short of what it could have been. Subplots within the penitentiary don’t really fit into the flow of the story, gaps in the plot logic reduce credibility, and oversentimentality is everywhere. If you don’t cry much at films, don’t worry, “Instinct” will let you know exactly when to.

I’ve heard “Instinct” described as “Dr Doolittle with a mean streak.” Despite its convoluted sentimentality and imperfect structure, I still think “Instinct” is a fine drama with a worthwhile message, and not offensive compared to most of this years graphic films. It deserves better reviews than it has received from the critics.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
If I was an evolution-minded secular humanist I would have loved this movie. After all, this film preaches that man in his primative tribal existence, when he was evidently closest to his ape-like ancestors, was more free to enjoy nature, cared more deeply for his family, and was more at peace with himself. However, as a biblical Christian, I found myself saddened with the realization that the main character, Dr. Ethan Powell, could have learned inner peace by learning the basic principles of living as recorded in the Old and New Testaments, and by asking the Prince of Peace into his life. But then, I suppose, the aged doctor wouldn’t have received the enormous gorilla-like strength that he mysteriously acquired and exhibited throughout the film. Far more than being simply another ecosystems sensitivity film, “Instinct” tries to provide a politically correct answer to man’s stress and alienation dilemmas and comes up way short. My Ratings: [2/3]
Scott Wessling, age 45
This was a very powerful film. It really made you think. The movie is true about life. I watched it once and immediately after, watched it again. Highly recommended for teens and up. Not recommended for kids for the simple reason they probably wouldn’t understand the truths in it. My Ratings: [3½/4]
Jason Harris, age 15
High quality acting with a refreshingly original story. I loved this movie. It very easily could have turned into an extreme environmentalist, animal rights loving, preach-fest, however the producers stayed away from politics and preaching and instead told a story of family and how much they mean to you. This movie is smart, funny, and touching. I would see it again. My Ratings: [3/5]
Stoney G deGeyter, age 27
This movie was pretty cool. Especially Anthony Hopkins—he is a good actor and anything he is in is worthwhile. It has a good story. At some parts, it’s even funny. There isn’t a lot of bad language either—only 2 uses of f*** and 3 uses of sh** . It’s got some violence but only showing what an insane asylum is really like. Don’t miss this movie… My Ratings: [3/4]
Cody, age 14