**1/2 (out of four)
By Daniel Kraus

There's a moment halfway through this film where faithful husband Edward (Richard Gere) is sifting through photographs a detective has taken of his wife and her secret lover, and he notices that the illicit couple is exiting a movie theater. He asks in disbelief to the detective, "They go to the MOVIES?"

This is exactly the kind of moment that Unfaithful tries so to hard to nail— this sense of the banal, normal things in life becoming suddenly obscene when viewed through a lens of deceit. There's another moment when Edward's wife Constance (Diane Lane) breaks down in a supermarket, crying in the frozen foods aisle. This is another example of the same thing —buying eggs makes her think of her family, which makes her feel guilty, etc.

It's not that these moments don't work; in fact, they do. It's just that director Adrian Lyne can't help himself from making the jump from sympathetic observer to moral judge, in the process taking all these moments and pretty much flushing their meaning down the toilet. His view is nicely blunt but disappointingly simple: "You're bad, so you're sad, and then you must pay."

It would be easy to cut Lyne some slack, because in many ways this is one of the most mature major releases in years. Lyne has always divided his time between the tawdry (Fatal Attraction, 9 1/2 Weeks) and the truly disturbing (Jacob's Ladder, Lolita), and ends up leaning towards the former this time. That doesn't make Unfaithful a bad movie, it just makes it a simple one, one where how we are meant to feel at the end is very clear.

At first, though, it's a lot more complex: housewife Constance accidentally bumps into sexy, young book dealer Paul (Olivier Martinez, who looks like a young Richard Gere) during a tumultuous, Biblical windstorm, which Lyne shoots as if it were the end of the world. It is, instead, a sort of beginning—Constance and Paul begin an affair that takes place every afternoon while Edward is at work. Constance is not retreating from any trouble at home and has only the thrill of erotic sex to gain, but she does it anyway, over and over and over.

Paul is little but a couple of suggestive looks and a bunch of aggressive sex maneuvers he picked up from Mickey Rourke, but that's okay—Paul is not important to the story, Constance is. The movie loses a little bit of credibility by assigning Paul too much personality, instead of just letting him fill out the gigolo role he's there to play. More and more often, filmmakers are too diplomatic and too fair to their minor characters, weakening their movie by allowing too many point-of-views. Take last year's Pearl Harbor, for example—trying to humanize the Japanese shows good intention, but drains any sort of claustrophobic tension.  Films are not Hallmark Cards, no one needs to be NICE.

Even Gere, who nicely underplays his role as he did in the recent The Mothman Prophecies, gets in the way by the end. The only character we really need is Constance, who does something bad for no good reason and enjoys the hell out of it—what's more fascinating than that?  Lane, who has been miscast for decades, turns Constance into the role of a lifetime by giving a flushed, embarrassed performance that you can never really "explain" but can intrinsically "understand." When her scenes aren't being ruined by silly extreme-close-ups every time she touches a man, Lane is sexy as hell. She's ecstatic, she's frightened, but more importantly she's out of control, giving up whatever it is that she's used to hanging on to.

From the opening shots of blades of grass, door jambs, and window locks (huh?), it's clear that Unfaithful is intended as a somewhat self-indulgent European-style character study, and for a long time it succeeds at being exactly that—despite the rather redundant use of a Frenchman as the love interest.

Unfortunately, as it devolves into a poor-man's In the Bedroom, Unfaithful becomes as relevant as this week's "Lifetime Movie." The elements of a mature movie worth grappling over are definitely present, but somewhere along the line those elements line up too evenly, and the answers become too obvious.

Daniel Kraus is a nationally syndicated columnist and filmmaker. Info on his new film, Ball of Wax, can be found at