Director: Adrian Lyne
Cast: Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Olivier Martinez, Erik Per Sullivan, Chad Lowe, Kate Burton, Margaret Colin, Dominic Chianese
MPAA Rating: (for sexuality, language and a scene of violence)
Running Time: 2:04
Release Date: 5/10/02
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Review by Mark Dujsik
At some point during Unfaithful, the screenplay stops relying on its characters and begins to build more and more upon script machinations to propel the story. Up until this point, though, almost none of the character intent or motivation is believable, and the movie actually gets better once they’re pushed aside. The exposition takes more than an hour and constantly repeats and reiterates points we already know and scenes we’ve already seen. We begin wondering just how long this can go on, and then we’re taken aback by where it does start to venture. This is director Adrian Lyne’s third movie that deals with marital infidelity (the other two being Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal) and his third that deals with sexual fetishes of some sort (the other two being 9 ½ Weeks and the 1998 version of Lolita), although the common thread between all of them is that they serve as cautionary tales. Unfaithful eventually gains the sense of warning that should accompany such a morality tale but for far too long indulges in cheap, unmotivated exploitation.
Edward (Richard Gere) and Constance Sumner (Diane Lane) live a happily married life in the suburbs of New York. They have a young son Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan) and financially live quite well off. One windy day in the city while shopping, Constance bumps into a man—tall, dark, and handsome, of course—named Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), a rare book dealer. Martel (we’ll use his surname; Paul just doesn’t sound exotic enough) invites Constance upstairs to his apartment to clean and bandage a set of bad scrapes on her knees that she received from the fall. She accepts, and on her way out, Martel guides her to a specific line on the specific page of a specific book from memory (the first sign that something isn’t right with him). The line says something to the extent of cherishing the moment. She returns home, seemingly changed, and finds her way back to his apartment. Does she consent when they soon have sex? It’s quite unclear, but it certainly doesn’t feel to consensual. An affair develops, and Edward slowly begins to suspect his wife and places someone on her trail.
The affair occupies an extended first act full of undisclosed motivation. Is it necessary that we understand Constance’s actions? No, but the screenplay by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr. is unconvincing in portraying them. Constance’s home life appears happy enough. Edward loves her and does nothing to make her feel unloved or unwanted. Perhaps the affair erupts because of boredom, but why choose a man who makes her the object of degradation? Martel definitely isn’t charming; he uses pick-up lines considered by drunken frat boys but soon abandoned because of their cheesiness ("You should never close your eyes, not even when you sleep. You should learn to sleep with your eyes open."). His accent makes him close to unintelligible. Then there are his sexual fetishes. The movie uses the exposition as an excuse to film a few semi-raunchy, supposedly passionate sex scenes. Lyne’s movies like to wallow in these types of sequences, but here they are filmed with some fast-cut, occasionally zooming distant shots. The effect misses eroticism or an effect of making us shocked with the act and leans toward an uninvolved sense of watching a bad soft-core exploitation.
Once the script moves past these marital indiscretions, it begins to focus more on Richard Gere’s character, and that’s when things start to become more interesting and believable. As stated before, the movie was written by two men, and this is probably the reason the man’s psychology seems more understandable. Eventually, Edward and Constance are united in sin and guilt, and it’s in this parallel that the movie finds its strength. Instead of simply transgressing into a typical thriller, the story becomes one of fear, regret, and ambiguity and takes us completely by surprise. The resolution is decidedly open-ended, leaving two possibilities for its characters. One of them is brought up in what seems a natural conversation until we realize the full extent of their situation. The second comes at the very last moment of the movie. Instead of simply moralizing (or amoralizing for that matter) by presenting a cut and dry conclusion, the movie finds a final note of honesty. I don’t think either choice is a possibility for these characters—one is too fantastical and the other far too real.
As effective as the later turns are, they don’t completely make up for basic incompetence of the prolonged exposition. The movie does mark a victory for its leads, Diane Lane in particular. Gere is cast against type and plays the wronged husband with a slight nuance of his screen persona. Lane, however, gets the toughest job of the movie, playing the full degree of her character even though her dramatic arc feels forced and unconvincing. It’s an arresting performance and a shame that the movie doesn’t offer the proper skill to flesh her character out.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.