Unfaithful
review by Paula Nechak, 10 May 2002

It would be easy to dismiss Adrian Lyneís verisimilitude movie, Unfaithful, as a close-clone of his overwrought pleasure, the 1987 hit, Fatal Attraction, but it would be a big mistake. Unfaithful, unlike Fatal Attraction, doesnít play at being a grown-up. It carries the weight and wisdom of age - Lyneís, the times, the actors, who for their gorgeousness, tote a script by the sturdy Alvin Sargent toward a lovely, ambiguous ending thatís mature and sensibly, if frustratingly smart.

Thereís a quiet gravity that fragrances Unfaithful with slow-moving, unexpected depth. As in all of Lyneís movies (Flashdance, Jacobís Ladder, 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Lolita) we enjoy his inspirationally perfect set and costume designs (in this case filtered through choke-inducing smoke machines that were pumped onto the set to filter the color) as well as his attention to urban detail, but heís given us more to chew upon this time around than eye candy.

While Lyne made all those visual elements converge just as wonderfully in Fatal Attraction the heated, alarmist response to the film and its garish bloodbath of an ending overshadowed its real intent -- that mistakes happen in quiet, unobtrusive ways and can tear at the fabric of trust. Instead, the focus was on the "kill the bitch" mentality that needed to annihilate Alex Forrest instead of understanding her illness and motivation. The film-going masses had to assuage some universal guilt and maintain their illusion of happy family rather than accept her pathology.

The wonderfully seductive subversiveness of Lyneís new film lies instead in its calm. He takes the first hour to give us a sense of who the Sumner family is. He invites us inside their gorgeous upstate New York home and languishes us within the seemingly perfect veneer of their life together.  

For awhile there are no cracks, just a comfort that gives us comfort. There are no spurned women tossing acid on the Sumner car or boiled bunnies on the stove. Itís  a radically different vehicle that drives Unfaithful, which in its everyday, upwardly mobile malaise, works because its act of infidelity is so unexpected and unwanted. It looks inward instead of outward for its reasons and it takes great responsibility for itself, much to our relief.

If there is joy in watching the film, thereís greater joy in the work that Diane Lane, as Connie Sumner, musters. Has there been a performance as extraordinary as this one this year? I think not. She is so sympathetic, likeable and agile that weíre willing to go along with her, unlike the selfish Michael Douglas character in Fatal Attraction.

Connie loves her husband (well-played by Richard Gere) and son but she becomes overpowered by the erotic thought of Paul Martel, the handsome, street-thuggish Frenchman with whom she collides on a windy Manhattan day, and who invites her up to his unbelievably trendy loft after she scrapes her knee on the cobbled Soho street. Paul, played by Gallic heartthrob Olivier Martinez (The Horseman on the Roof), is an enigma, full of bad come-on cliches and pumped with an immature urgency that nearly makes him narcisstically and voyeuristically icky.

He likes seducing this married woman and he doesnít give a whit about her husband and son. He preens in his conquest and thereís a threat of violence in him. But when the film changes color in the last third, and husband and lover meet, he becomes docile and deflated. Perhaps itís because heís confronting another man - Gereís wounded spouse - and for a moment feels empathy instead of crowing like a cock at his bedding another manís wife.

We like him for a few minutes - too late as it may be.

Unfaithful was adapted by Sargent from the 1968 Claude Chabrol film, La Femme Infidele, and  if it looks quintessentially American, even with Martinezí presence, it also feels European. American films donít let women characters have the range of emotion or the rich and textured inner life that Connie reveals. And Lane, the child star who splashed in A Little Romance, later fell off the face of the earth only to re-surface with a wonderful turn in televisionís Lonesome Dove miniseries a decade and a half ago, has been building, after fine performances in films like A Walk on the Moon, into a force of nature to reckon with.

Witness her riot of feeling as she struggles, after first sleeping with Paul, on the train ride back home: she weeps with pleasure, catches herself, feels guilt and pain and then sudden pleasure again at a memory of his touching her. She trembles with desire and reins herself in as she gains cognizance of the graveness of her slippage. A world travels through her in just a few screen seconds.

The film belongs to her entirely. Gere is solidly good and highly credible and his climactic move, which slaps us in the face and brings us full-circle to all that has gone before, is desperately succinct. But though the film shifts into his hands in its final act, it is the thought of Connieís face, at first passingly lovely, then flushed and radiant in her re-discovery of her  sensual and sexual self - finally tired with the full knowledge of the repercussions and ramifications of her infidelity and the wound it has inflicted upon her family, that embeds in our brains.

Lyne avoids condemnations, blame, judgement and moral cruxes, instead relying upon that pervasive calm, foundation and nebulous territory to close his film. In that stillness there is a power and resonance that understands the complexity of human relationships far more fully than the finality of a gunshot.


Directed by:
Adrian Lyne

Starring:
Richard Gere
Diane Lane
Olivier Martinez
Erik Per Sullivan

Written by:
Alvin Sargent
William Broyles Jr.

Rated:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires parent
 or adult guardian.

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