Carly Norris (Sharon Stone) is a woman whose life is in rebuild. She’s just left a seven-year marriage and settles on a change of scenery in the form of an upscale Manhattan high-rise. Almost instantly after receiving the keys, she meets several new neighbors: Vida (Polly Walker), a call girl who lives across the hall; Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger), an author who vies for a date with Carly; and Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin), an eccentric video-game designer. Carly sniffs out that Zeke knows more than he leads on, but she’s at peace knowing she’s embarked on a fresh start.
Little does she realize that the entire apartment complex is under surveillance — that includes the tenants’ private quarters. In the deep recesses of the apartment lies a room with dozens of monitors that observes the residents’ every move; one man watches all the screens, recording moments for his pleasure. For him, the entertainment tops anything on TV.
I’ve learned from living in multiple apartments over the last four years that it’s easy to be a voyeur, and the appeal is almost irresistible. At the same time, I think most of us have been quick to mute the TV when we hear any kind of commotion coming from the next room. You can’t put a price on drama that you’re close enough to hear but have no active involvement in whatsoever.
Sliver is cut from that 90s/2000s cloth where the hot commodities of cinema at the time were surveillance, computer hacking, and erotic thrillers. The presence of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (fresh off of Basic Instinct just a year prior) should’ve suggested a film that was heavier on logic and mystery than the one we ultimately got.
Some of its problems start with the fact that the primary performers just don’t mesh with one another nor live up to their past roles. Stone looks and feels uncomfortable playing the damsel archetype; sort of a contradiction after she was just seen as the devious Catherine Tramell. She’s not born to play helpless. William Baldwin is both bland and out of place himself, his shortcomings culminating during an awkward, flirty exchange between Zeke and Carly that has him requesting she take her panties off at the table. The whole exchange is uncomfortable as opposed to arousing. Rounding out an underwhelming roster is Tom Berenger, who looks completely bored and unchallenged.
Working off of the novel, written by Ira Levin, author of Rosemary’s Baby, Eszterhas’ script does a lot of meandering. Any sense of pacing is rendered moot as the film winds up being a collection of staccato moments with loose, underdeveloped plot-threads. The reappearance of Carly’s ex-husband provides no extra dramatic heft, and the introduction of the “Sliver room” arrives so late in the runtime that it’s barely explored. All signs point to a movie badly butchered in post-production. A blaring soundtrack and rapid cutting suggests it was run through the same blender as the worst music videos lucky enough to appear on MTV in the same era.
Director Phillip Noyce’s initial enthusiasm for being tapped to direct Sliver and Eszterhas’ proclivity for dark, sensual narratives makes me wish we got a movie that doesn’t feel like it was lobotomized long before it hit theaters (and still somehow raked in over $115 million).
NOTE: As of this writing, Sliver is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Starring: Sharon Stone, William Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Polly Walker, and Martin Landau. Directed by: Phillip Noyce.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!