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
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
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
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
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
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.
- Unfaithful - Paul Nechak
Unfaithful - Cynthia Fuchs
Erik Per Sullivan
William Broyles Jr.
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires parent
or adult guardian.