Film Reviews: Wednesday, May 09, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Guilty Pleasures

Adrian Lyne brings new maturity to his pet theme in Unfaithful.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Marital infidelity is the constant theme of Adrian Lyneís films, whether itís the notorious Fatal Attraction or the ridiculous Indecent Proposal. The obvious strategy in his latest film, Unfaithful, is to invert the dynamic of Fatal Attraction ó this time, itís the wife who has the affair. The difference is that, even though thereís also a murder in this movie, the destructive results of the affair donít play themselves out in a thrillerís terms. Thereís no psycho killer to bring about a resolution, just the emotional resources of some flawed people.

Connie Sumner (Diane Lane) is a New York-area housewife with an 8-year-old son (Erik Per Sullivan) and a devoted and wealthy husband, Ed (Richard Gere). However, her well-heeled and well-ordered life in Westchester County gets shaken up one day when sheís shopping in Manhattanís SoHo neighborhood and a windstorm blows her into a rumpled but charming French bookseller named Paul (Olivier Martinez). Feeling bored and taken for granted by her family, and flattered by the attention of a younger man, she embarks on a torrid affair. Just as it seems to have run its course, however, Ed finds out about it and confronts Paul. In a moment of extreme emotional duress, the husband lashes out and kills the lover.

The storytelling pace is extremely deliberate. People have criticized Lyneís sex scenes for being overlong and sensational. They are lengthy, but his films deal with relationships that are at that stage where sex is something that couples spend hours upon hours doing, so the sex scenes reflect that. As for the charge of being sensationalistic, well, thatís pretty much true. The women in his movies always get more naked than the men.

The movieís shot in lots of grays and golds; this feels like an autumnal film. Most surprising of all, thereís no big thrillerish payoff, as the film ends on a note of ambiguity. The depiction of how the affair erodes the trust between Ed and Connie is handled subtly and without speechifying. If this film werenít so pretty and didnít have Jan Kaczmarekís gushy soundtrack and had an unknown directorís name on it instead of Lyneís, weíd be talking it up a lot more.

The directorís glossy good taste actually works in his favor. The script by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr. is so humorless, and the charactersí tortured emotions are so pure, that the movie might lapse into hysteria under someone elseís guidance. Lyne keeps the filmís visual style on an even keel and leaves his actors to express all the emotions in the story.

They do pretty well, too. Diane Lane is strikingly beautiful, but she has seemed miscast in all her roles in the last 20 years. She seems to find a real kinship with the role of a middle-aged mother, perhaps because thatís what she is in real life. She does a particularly good job in the scene where Connieís on the train returning home right after the first time she commits adultery, and her feelings of guilty pleasure mix with plain old guilt. Lane has often been talked up in certain circles, but this is the first time that there seems to be something to it.

Gereís working outside his usual range playing a colorless guy who suddenly snaps. He doesnít do so well in the scene where he snaps, but he comes off much better in the scenes that immediately follow, as he tries to cover up his involvement in Paulís death. Heís still no great actor, but his age and the vulnerability that comes with it make him believable in the role of a cheated-on husband.

The maturity found in Unfaithful is a sign of the graying of a generation of filmmakers. Lyne was part of a wave of British filmmakers who hit America with tidal force in the early 1980s. The group also included Alan Parker (Midnight Express, Fame, Mississippi Burning), Tony Scott (The Hunger, Top Gun, Crimson Tide), and Tonyís brother Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise). They had honed their craft making tv commercials back home, and they showed the studios how to make films as slick and seductive and cool as a high-performance luxury car. Their financial success led them all to long and distinguished careers, and made them profoundly influential in creating the visual style of contemporary mainstream Hollywood entertainment.

Now, Lyne (along with Ridley Scott) is past 60, and he finally seems ready to take on the consequences of adultery in an adult fashion. Heís still Victorian in his prudish-yet-fascinated disapproval of marital infidelity, but his current film is observant enough that, for once, his viewpoint isnít a turn-off. It took him until his golden years, but the director of Flashdance and 9 1/2 Weeks has finally turned out something thoughtful.


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