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?"
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.
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."
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.
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 beginningConstance 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.
is little but a couple of suggestive looks and a bunch
of aggressive sex maneuvers he picked up from Mickey Rourke,
but that's okayPaul 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 exampletrying 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.
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 itwhat'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.
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 thatdespite the rather redundant use of
a Frenchman as the love interest.
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
Kraus is a nationally syndicated columnist and filmmaker.
Info on his new film, Ball of Wax, can be found