Huppert is superb in the lead role, a strong-willed and determined business-woman w/ one close friend (who's husband Elle casually cheats with) a Son she dotes on but doesn't feel close to, an ex-Husband who's a struggling writer and can't quite stay out of his ex's life, and a pair of intriguing neighbors (the wife is quite religious, the husband is a charming enigma.)
The film drops us right into a chaotic home invasion-rape sequence. Elle moves on from this in robot-like fashion...a terrible childhood event involving her monster of a Father made her swear off future Police involvement.
She tells her closest confidantes about the attack. She acts as if it were merely a distraction in her extremely hectic life, but on her own takes steps to thwart any further attacks on her person. She also begins sleuthing around her work-place, once the attacker makes it known she's being watched.
Verhoeven does not make this a "Who-dunnit" as much as a "What's Elle up to, now?" film. The identity of her attacker is made known, but he becomes as much a part of Elle's life as before.
My take on all this was, this film is about frustration, rejection, and being in charge...who is really in control and for what purpose? The young lady Elle's son is moving in with is described as a "lunatic" but when an argument ensues between son and girlfriend, Elle is quick to take her side knowing who was in the right at the time. Having lived in the shadow of her Father's crimes, Elle is all about meting out justice to those who would take control from her.
I would say the film is worthy of praise for everyone's acting, the shock value in some of the more amusing scenes...but perhaps has too many characters and plot-lines to follow, this film felt cumbersome at times Elle's Mother's situation was a hoot, for example. But when her story ends (as expected) and certain threads afterward are left dangling, it feels quite like a gyp.
Not what I'd call a "gripping" film but it certainly holds you in it's grip during the most interesting sequences. A simmering pot-boiler; the tale of a driven woman who becomes the focal point of events she (over time) welcomes into her complicated life, as a cathartic measure. Verhoeven stays on course.
No matter it won Golden Globe, I still think it SUCKS and totally not enjoyable. As for Paul Verhoeven's similar subject film, I'd recommend "Basic Instinct" which is a way better.