In a psychiatric environment where pills and force are the norm, a rebel soul by the name of Theo Caulder (Cuba Gooding Jr.) offers a different approach when treating anthropologist Ethan Powell (Anthony Hopkins), convicted for killing two men and injuring several others. Hopkins portrays his character perfectly as the dangerous man with a fascinating mind, just as he did before with Hannibal Lecter at The Silence of the Lambs.
Nevertheless, Powell is far from Lecter´s vicious mind. Our first sign of kindness from this man comes in one of the movie´s first scenes, where he´s locked in a van with 2 aggressive, chained dogs who are there to guard him in case he tries to escape. When the van opens again, the policemen are surprised to see the two boxers in a calm-submissive state over Powell´s lap.
Caulder is able to see through Powell´s intimidating appearance, taking his case as a life´s challenge. The more he knows about the man, the more he believes in him. By making some good reading to the files, he deduces that Powell lived with gorillas in the wild 2 years before the murders. The key is to get him to speak about that time and what happened there to disrupt him so much. To get there Caulder will really have to take the bull by the horns, as Powell hasn´t said a single word in months to anyone, so this will have to be the first baby step.
External factors will also have to be handled in order to make progress. Medication´s got Powell on a numbed state and conditions at the psychiatric center are brutal, with guard Dacks (John Ashton) as the head of a control system based on fear and authority. Caulder will have to fight as a rebel in order to get some sanity in, not just for the sake of his patient, but for all the other ones who are living under very low conditions. And the more he penetrates into Powell´s mind, the more affinity he feels for him.
His passion for his job, his love for the gorillas, the way he lived among them in the wild and became accepted as a member of their family, the peace he found in those forests that were nothing like modern civilization, as well as his regrets for having worked as a zoo keeper in his early days, bringing gorillas into bars, away from their freedom… and of course, the tragic incident which lead to the murders.
In the end, the movie tries to deliver 3 messages: a) animals belong to the wild and not in zoos, b) human´s ambition takes him to invade territories in detriment of other humans or living beings, and c) mind treatment should happen in a natural, non-chemical way, in a peaceful, non-authoritarial environment. Every spectator will have his/her own point of view regarding the 3 points; I personally think I´d never live with gorillas, but Ethan Powell´s speech deserves to be listened.