Devastatingly Irresistible (Review)

If you've missed the moody brilliance of a story told with a stolen glance or a telling smile, this film is for you. Obviously bored by the tired scenarios of the recklessly rich, Unfaithful's filmmakers set their sights within the vulnerable heart of contemporary middle class America. Connie and Edward have attained complacency in their marriage, that place that lays beyond the restlessly selfish twenty something years, beyond the career-family oriented thirty something years, to that comfortable place of submissive acceptance of who they are and how it is. In this generally unshakeable territory, the American Dream still flourishes.

Connie Sumner (Diane Lane) isn't looking for an affair when she collides with Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez) on a windy street in Soho. Sure … he is youthful, gorgeous to a distraction, and full of the promise of mystery that comes with a French accent, but it takes more than the obvious to shake her from the warm and fuzzy fortress that surrounds her. That element of sexual chemistry is more easily recognized on film these days than in real life. So effectively has she repressed the feeling, she has no idea the influence it has on the seemingly innocent choices she makes that morning.

Diane Lane has explored this character before in the more liberal and distant terrain of the Woodstock era (A Walk on the Moon), but her portrayal of Connie vibrates with a tangible display of visible emotion. Lane explains, " … We go through changes, and you don't always realize that until something sparks you to see yourself in a different light. That's what makes Connie vulnerable." In the brilliant centerpiece of the film, we share Connie's first experience with infidelity on her way home. Through her intensely visible reactions to the flood of memories shown as flashbacks, Lane literally writes Connie's story across her face in an exhilarating and sometimes unsettlingly realistic performance.

Connie's husband, Edward Sumner (Richard Gere), moves through his days with the predictable assurance that affords his family and business a stability easily taken for granted. Early on, he discovered the simple comforts of a life filled with simple pleasures and managed to avoid the complexities that come with pursuing a life filled with passion. When his world is shaken with the reality of Connie's affair, he is not in the least prepared to cope with the extreme emotions that bombard him. He reacts impulsively and, like Connie, first experiences the brunt of his actions in the aftermath.

To say this role is a departure for Richard Gere is beyond a simplification. In his long and memorable filmography, Gere's characters have always reflected a sense of passionate elegance, a handsome style we've come to expect. His successful departure from this stereotype in this role provides the perfect element of dimension to a character we might otherwise overlook. Gere's attraction to the role was immediate, "It was a very textured, very intimate script that was not only interesting, but disturbing to me…" Disturbing indeed, his portrayal of Edwards' escalation toward temporary insanity might well go down as one of the most terrifyingly believable moments in the history of film.

Paul's (Olivier Martinez) life is a reflection of his youth; open to all possibilities and hungry to experience all it has to offer. He is a natural charmer with the looks and endearing sense of humor to attract life irresistibly to his door … all he has to do is invite it in. In his cluttered SoHo loft, he surrounds himself with stacks of half pursued interests where the potential for failure is avoided by the unfinished process. There is a sense that one day he will get to it, one day it will all come together, after all he has his whole life ahead of him. Then one day, Connie stumbles into his life. True to character, he does not hesitate to invite her in.

Olivier Martinez has stirred the passions of the French since his first film roles in the early 1990s. He won a Cesar Award in 1994 for his role in Bertrand Blier's drama 1,2,3, Soliel opposite Marcello Mastronianni. He first gained international attention in The Horseman on the Roof, a French production based on Gene Giono's beloved novels telling the adventures of Angelo, a dashing 19th Century cavalry officer who falls in love with a married woman, played by Juliette Binoche. While Unfaithful promises to finally make his presence known this side of the pond, it should be noted that Olivier's character is as much a departure from his persona as Richard is from Edward. Unprepared for fame brought on by his role as Angelo and the media attention surrounding a real life romance with his leading lady, the shy young actor did what a few other European actors have done in recent years, stepped back to contemplate his future.

As for Martinez' vision of Paul: "For me, Paul is an innocent. He doesn't know what is going to happen and he has no control over his future. I was very interested by this angle of the character. He's like a child; he's free ... too free." His portrayal of Paul in Unfaithful is a bit more guarded and mature than the mesmerizing Angelo that Martinez created in the youthful innocence of his acting career, but the moments when the camera captures the exquisite charisma of his body language are more than worth the wait. Catch just one stolen glance and you'll know why Connie made the choices she did and Lyne believed Martinez could hold his own with Richard Gere.

Adrian Lyne's Unfaithful is a seductive journey into the seemingly insignificant choices we make in daily life and the weight of their consequences. The depth of character development, shadowed by the impossibility of placing blame, leaves the viewer's sense of values shaken, or perhaps at the very least, questioning values rationally conjectured through the changing morals of today's society. It will leave you reflecting on a great many things in your life ... on what you've done and what you didn't do.

2002 Cinetropic

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A Fox 2000 Pictures & Regency release
Photographs courtesy Fox Pictures