Primatologist Ethan Powell (Hopkins), who went missing some years earlier, is found living in a community of gorillas in the forests of Rwanda. He's also held responsible for the murder of several park rangers in the area, and is imprisoned in a facility for the criminally insane, never speaking. Which is where Theo Caulder (Gooding Jr) finds him, and attempts to communicate.
Director John Turteltaub's follow up to the dull feelbad romance Phenomenon stars Anthony Hopkins as brilliant primatologist Ethan Powell. Taking his studies a little too seriously, Powell disappears while studying mountain gorillas in the rainforests of Rwanda and is found living wild among them. Subsequently jailed for the mysterious murder of the park rangers who traced him, Powell has not spoken since.
Sent to a prison in Florida for the criminally insane, Powell attracts the attention of get-ahead psychiatrist Theo Caulder (Gooding Jr.) who sees him as a way to ingratiate himself with his mentor, Benn Hillard (Sutherland). But in growing closer to his patient, Caulder becomes fascinated with his radical ecological philosophies and unravels the mystery of Powell's withdrawal from society.
It may work on Caulder, but it won't work on us - Powell's impassioned outbursts on the nature of 'takers' and 'leavers' and mankind's rape of the natural world are far too simplistic to convey his 'visionary' genius.
Despite a distracting subplot involving Powell's estranged daughter, Gooding Jr. struggles manfully with a one-dimensional role, but the crucial bonding between the two men shifts clumsily from a doctor-patient relationship to a teacher-pupil dynamic. The ending is a cop-out too, but the film earns extra kudos for the gorillas, which are uniformly ace.
It's an interesting prospect, but Instinct never really catches fire. Hopkins presents another solid and, at times, immensely powerful performance, but when the story is finally coaxed out of him it simply isn't provocative enough to justify the preceding mind games.