Director: Michael Christofer
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie, Thomas Jane, Joan Pringle, Allison Mackie
MPAA Rating: (for strong sexual content and some violence)
Running Time: 1:52
Release Date: 8/3/01
Buy Related Products
Review by Mark Dujsik
We are reminded constantly throughout Original Sin that we are watching a melodrama. There are long, teary-eyed pleas of love, switched identities, a disappearance, fake deaths, a hidden past, a naive hero, a wait on death row, and so much more. Early on in the movie, the characters even attend a melodramatic play intended to mirror the tone of the movie itself. There’s been a resurgence of great melodrama recently, but this is not part of that trend. What we have here is simply an erotic thriller with so many melodramatic turns, it eventually becomes laughable.
In 1880 Havana, Luis Vargas (Antonio Banderas), a rich, coffee company owner, has arranged a wedding with a woman from Delaware through written correspondence. He’s received the picture of a plain woman and is surprised to find Angelina Jolie. Her name is Julia, and she admits to slightly lying about her appearance. Obviously, this will not be the end of her deceptions. Later that night, the two are married, but Luis allows Julia to decide when they will consummate the marriage. After they get to know each other a little better, they do in good, old R-rated fashion. In another instance of love-blinded naiveté, Luis gives Julia access to his personal and business accounts, and soon a bird ends up with its neck broken, which is never a good sign. Soon enough, Julia has disappeared, and Luis’ accounts are all but drained.
From here the movie begins its series of never-ending twists. We learn a lot of the information from Julia herself who is in jail and being prepared for execution. Soon after Julia’s disappearance, we learn she is not actually Julia at all, and that the real Julia was murdered. This information is revealed by Detective Walter Downs (Thomas Jane), and this is the kind of movie where it’s apparent there’s something more to him because of his mustache. It would be unfair to reveal any more of the plot twists, but there are plenty more left. It would also be pointless to reveal any more because the movie provides one of those endings where everything is turned around, but it feels tacked on and ends up cheating the audience more than providing anything new to what’s come before it.
The acting here is certainly in tune with the melodramatic elements of the movie. There’s plenty of scenery being chewed as the movie progresses, and some of the actors do it better than others. Banderas and Jolie have great chemistry in the early scenes, but once Julia’s loyalties are brought into question repeatedly, this chemistry is sacrificed for the story. Both are well up to their parts, and Banderas is surprisingly good. His character, on the other hand, is one of the movie’s biggest problems. Luis is far too gullible to be a sympathetic hero. By the second time he’s believed Julia, he has lost all understanding. Julia’s allegiances are changed so often, it’s impossible to identify with her. This leaves us in a poor situation, and the movie ultimately suffers for it.
What the movie really gets done well is its atmosphere. The opening scenes are effectively sensual, and the look of the later scenes get across the darker elements of the story. However, for all of this, there is still an inconsistency of style present. Scenes of dramatic tension are emphasized in slow motion, and there are more similar modernized style elements present that clash with the material.
Original Sin has higher ambitions than what’s actually possible with the material at hand. Melodrama does have the capability to present human truths, but this is not that kind of melodrama. This is a cheap erotic thriller, and one with many flaws. Simply because you recognize that you’re dealing with melodrama does not automatically make it any better.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.