2002, R, 110 min. Directed by Adrian Lyne. Starring Dominic Chianese, Erik Per Sullivan, Margaret Colin, Kate Burton, Olivier Martinez, Diane Lane, Richard Gere.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 10, 2002
Throughout his career, film director Adrian Lyne has gravitated toward the subject of sex and its power to both liberate and compromise the soul. Sex for Lyne is a Fatal Attraction, a Flashdance, an Indecent Proposal, or it's a fevered episode that occurs in 9 1/2 Weeks or with a nymphet named Lolita. His new one, Unfaithful, finds him navigating familiar thematic haunts. The film is a study of how a wife's extramarital affair affects her marriage. It is an adaptation of Claude Chabrol's 1968 psychological gripper La Femme Infidèle and was written by Alvin Sargent and Austin's William Broyles. Lyne brings his usual bag of tricks to this story of marital dalliance: dense yet distilled lighting, emphasis on the imbued meaning of inanimate objects and forces of nature, and a tactile sense of production design. And while it may be possible to perceive the storyline of Unfaithful as a version of Fatal Attraction: Part Deux, Lyne this time doesn't turn the consequences of the infidelity into a full-bore fright fest. Perhaps taking a cue from his French sources or his American screenwriters, Lyne keeps this denouement more cerebral and realistic rather than reverting to the all-out firestorms that punctuate so many of his films. (To add to this mystery, it's generally public knowledge that Lyne recently re-shot a new ending with Gere and Lane shortly before the movie's release.) Lyne's excesses are usually the kind of thing I love to hate, but Unfaithful found me pretty much following along in step with his rhythms and dramatic choices. In truth, a large measure of what sells this film are the central performances. Gere is shrewdly cast against type in Unfaithful, playing the devoted and sedate suburban family man instead of the seductive Lothario role that has been so common throughout his career. Lane has the role of her career here as the wife who strays. Always a captivating actress (except when handed lifeless spouse roles, as in The Perfect Storm), Lane displays her full range in Unfaithful as she goes from contented wife and mom, to blissed-out lover, to careless adulteress, to guilty spouse. Her solo subway ride home to Westchester as she recalls the various sensations experienced during her tryst is a scene for the ages; if there is justice, this performance should catapult Lane into the very top ranks of American actors. Martinez brings real sizzle to his conventional role of Latin lover, and his future in American movies looks pleasantly assured following this romp in Unfaithful. As per usual, Lyne inundates his movie with a flurry of elemental, inanimate forces. The lovers meet because of a furious windstorm that rocks New York City. They are literally blown into each other's path. As the movie progresses, the adulteress silently wears her bruised and reddened knee like some symbolic scarlet letter of yore. Many are these types of physical representations of emotional states in Unfaithful, and for once Lyne makes this narrative device work in his favor. Subtlety is perhaps one of the first things one learns when conducting an affair.