"There's no such thing as a mistake. There's what you do and what you don't do."
Adrian Lyne, Hollywood's foremost exploiter of trysts gone wrong, returns after a half-decade hiatus. Lyne's follow-up to his ill-received Lolita is another surprisingly low-key (for Lyne, anyway) remake, this time of Claude Chabrol's 1969 film, La Femme Infidèle.
Unfaithful reunites Richard Gere and Diane Lane, eighteen years after the two hot properties teamed up in Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club. Lane also experiences her second pairing with Olivier, with whom she co-starred in her very first movie, A Little Romance.
Oh, wait—that was Sir Lawrence Olivier. This is Olivier Martinez. Not quite the same, is it?
Facts of the Case
It's Autumn in New York, and…excuse me, but an urgent memo from Richard Gere's publicist insists that I begin with a different phrase.
All right, so it's fall in New York. Literally. In the midst of a blustery day rivaling anything Pooh and friends ever weathered, married Connie Sumner (Diane Lane, A Walk on the Moon, The Perfect Storm) takes a tumble on a Soho sidewalk, right into the arms of bohemian book dealer Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez, Before Night Falls). The shaggy-but-suave Frenchman invites Connie up to his loft to patch her wounded knees. (How is it that movie characters with negligible apparent income always live in these zeppelin-hangar-sized loft apartments?) She is reluctant, but allows herself to be persuaded. Paul gives Connie a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the words of which—Be happy for this moment, this moment is your life—haunt her after she leaves Paul's apartment for the suburban home she shares with her armored-car magnate husband Edward (Richard Gere, whose publicist still prefers that I not mention starred in Autumn in New York) and eight-year-old son Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan, The Cider House Rules, TV's Malcolm in the Middle).
Unable to get her Gallic knight out of her mind, Connie finds flimsy excuses to drop by Paul's for coffee or tea, which she never stays long enough to drink. Inevitably, caffeine plays second fiddle to a metabolic rush of another kind altogether. Connie and Paul begin an impassioned affair, even as Edward begins to suspect that Connie's mysterious "errands" in the city can't all be chalked up to the excellence of the local patisseries. So concerned is our sweater-clad security honcho that he hires Uncle Junior from The Sopranos to shadow his wayward wife and find out what's what.
The consequences that evolve from Connie's misdeeds and Edward's suspicions I'll not reveal for the sake of the reader—though the film's trailer had no such qualms. (I hate when that happens.)
Diane Lane may be the one of the two or three finest actresses working today, but almost no one notices. Part of the problem is that, despite a career spanning more than 23 years thus far, Lane has appeared in only one unqualified box office hit (The Perfect Storm). The remainder of her appearances have consisted of excellent work in small-but-good films no one saw (A Walk on the Moon, My New Gun, The Big Town), elevating work in mediocre potboilers (Murder At 1600, Gunshy, Lady Beware), standout work in TV movies and miniseries (Lonesome Dove, the televersion of A Streetcar Named Desire), and solid work in big-budget bombs (The Cotton Club, Chaplin, the unfairly maligned Streets Of Fire, and the deservedly maligned Judge Dredd).
Too bad, because the one-time child star has matured into a thespian with phenomenal chops. Oscar nominations are often sealed with a single powerful scene (e.g. Nicholson in A Few Good Men), and in Unfaithful Lane delivers one of the most remarkable scenes I've witnessed by an actress. Riding home on a commuter train following her first assignation with her new lover, Lane's Connie Sumner succumbs to a whelming torrent of emotions unleashed by the still-fresh experience: she laughs, she weeps, she is wracked with guilt and self-loathing, she is elated by postcoital nirvana, and at points she is a little of each of these all at once. Director Adrian Lyne intercuts this picture with clips from Connie and Paul's lovemaking, in which Lane uses her entire body as a communicative instrument—her flesh quivers with electricity as she wrestles within herself over this conflicted whirlwind of desire and fear. Only when Lane's scene was concluded did I realize I had stopped breathing while I watched her.
This one sequence of crystallized acting power more than deserves a nod at Oscar-time. And, amazingly, it's not the only such moment Lane shares for us. There's a wryly comic scene at the beginning of the film when Connie enters Paul's bathroom to clean the scrapes she sustained in her fall. Her trepidation at being alone and vulnerable in a strange man's water closet is nothing short of hilarious. On her second visit to the loft, Connie, who has just boasted of the French she studied in high school, mistranslates Paul's question "Do you want to take off your coat?" as something more suggestive. Lane actually blushes—her skin flushes, her face beads with sweat, the veins rise in her neck and forehead. In his commentary, Lyne avers that he had never before seen an actress accomplish this physical reaction on cue.
And is there a top-line actress in Hollywood as willing as Lane to be seen in her natural state? She's in her mid-30s but in this film plays—and looks—several years older. (It's interesting that Connie is supposed to be more than a decade her boytoy's senior, when in reality Lane was born almost exactly one year before Martinez.) Wearing little if any makeup at times, she is unglamorous yet stunning. She has grown into one of cinema's great faces: with lines and creases and odd planes that reflect the light in unusual ways, and almond eyes set ever so slightly too wide apart. Her voice possesses the flat world-weariness of one who's been there, seen it all, done most of it, and perhaps learned something from the experience.
As dynamic and awardworthy as Lane's performance is, the rest of the cast around her is watchable, but not especially memorable. Lane outclasses her co-stars Richard Gere—game but awkwardly miscast as the cuckolded husband (but not miscast as awkwardly as in…oh, say, Autumn in New York)—and Olivier Martinez, whose indecipherable accent and dubious charm (do women really lust after shambling, disheveled Eurotrash who mumble?) leave us wondering why a together woman like Connie Sumner would risk her perfect life for a dalliance with this clown. She does, however, display a plausible maternal chemistry with weird little Erik Per Sullivan, who plays son Charlie. Some talented supporting players—Kate Burton (The Ice Storm), Margaret Colin (Independence Day), the reliably menacing Zeljko Ivanek (Black Hawk Down, Hannibal)—and some not so talented—why does Chad Lowe keep getting work, aside from the coattails of brother Rob and wife Hilary Swank?—shuffle onto and off the stage, without being offered much to do. This is really a four-character story: the three Sumners and the slovenly French guy. Everyone else is window dressing.
To its credit, the script by Alvin Sargent (Paper Moon, Dominick and Eugene) and William Broyles, Jr. (Cast Away, Tim Burton's "reimagined" Planet Of The Apes) maintains its dignity fairly well, even when the plot gets shoehorned into perilous melodramatic territory in the third reel. Lyne and his writers don't attempt to explain Connie's infidelity—her husband appears to be loving, non-abusive and non-neglectful, and her family life is pretty idyllic for this sort of picture. This is as it should be, because in real life affairs rarely make sense except to the parties involved, and often not even to them. And the purposeful ambiguity of the film's final shot—which Lyne had to fight for, against studio wonks who insisted on a more stereotypical Hollywood ending (included in the deleted scenes on the DVD)—achieves the rare feat of allowing the viewer to resolve the plot's loose ends in any way he or she chooses. The movie does, however, allow itself to waste its most precious resource—Diane Lane's bravura acting—by pushing her into the scenery behind the less compelling Gere for the last forty minutes.
Fox Home Video displays its fidelity to the DVD format, presenting Unfaithful in a beautiful anamorphic transfer (caveat emptor: there's also a pan-and-scan version polluting the shelves of a Wal-Mart near you) surrounded by a fine selection of supplements. The print is clean and sharp, with deep shadows and realistic skin tones. Lyne uses a subdued, earthtone-based color spectrum throughout the film, so viewers won't find much to dazzle the eye (aside, of course, from Diane Lane), but the hues are uniformly accurate and rich. There's no visible evidence of edge enhancement, pixelation, or other nasty digital artifacts. Kudos to Fox for flattering the effective camera work by cinematographer Peter Biziou, who last aimed the lens for Lyne on 9 1/2 Weeks.
[Editor's Note: Are you getting the impression by now that Judge Rankins is smitten with Diane Lane? I can't quite tell.]
The wonderfully bittersweet score by composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, whose music was probably the best thing about fellow Pole Janusz Kaminski's forgettable Lost Souls, is easily the most remarkable feature of the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Kaczmarek's poignant, piano-based score adds delicious atmosphere without becoming heavy-handed. Otherwise, this is a dialogue-driven track that will afford your surround speakers a much-welcomed evening off.
Fox provides one-and-a-half enjoyable audio commentaries. The full measure of enjoyment derives from director Lyne, who speaks cogently and candidly about this long-anticipated project—he had waited nearly three decades to remake Chabrol's original film. Lyne leaves a number of lengthy white spaces in his chatfest, but when he's talking, it's interesting stuff. The half-pleasantry comes courtesy of Diane Lane's contribution to a scene-specific commentary featuring her and co-star Olivier Martinez, who doesn't offer much that's coherent. (But ooh…he's French.) The pair was recorded separately. Lane is a delight, surprisingly forthcoming about her experience on the film, while Martinez natters to no good end.
A quality featurette entitled An Affair to Remember: On the Set of Unfaithful affords a behind-the-scenes look at the production of the film. This 16-minute documentary includes interviews with Lyne, his three lead actors, and producer G. Mac Brown, as well as footage from the shoot. It's well-produced—if full frame—and contains an offhand remark from Richard Gere that's funnier than any line in the script: discussing his Everyman character, Gere opines, "I'm a normal family guy myself." (Yes, folks, Richard Gere said that. The Court declines further comment in the interests of propriety.)
Additional individual interviews with Gere, Lane and Martinez are available as separate segments; Lane's is lengthier and more interesting that the other two, mostly because she talks about the highlights of her career and not about the film at hand. An episode of PBS's The Charlie Rose Show with Lyne, Lane, and Gere as guests mostly reiterates information we've heard elsewhere on the disc.
A selection of eleven deleted scenes—one of which is the aforementioned alternate ending—can be sampled with or without commentary from Lyne. All are mildly intriguing, but aren't missed in the finished product.
I found the nine-minute feature Anne Coates on Editing fascinating. Coates is one of the giants in the field—in her half-century wielding the blade, she's cut and pasted such classics as Lawrence Of Arabia and Hotel Paradiso, and contributed exemplary work to Steven Soderbergh's Out Of Sight and Erin Brockovich. Here she illuminates a process few of us think about when we watch a movie—you only notice the editing when it's awful—and even fewer of us truly understand. Those who enjoy a glimpse into the secret alchemy that makes cinema magic will enjoy this short. (Conversely, only devotees of minutia and arcana will get much excitement out of reading three scenes from the production script, complete with Lyne's personal notes scribbled into the margins.)
The film's trailer is worth checking out (after you've seen the movie, as it reveals some key points best left as surprises) if only to observe how dramatically the emotional tone of a film can be altered by a change in music. The driving background heard here presents a stark contrast to the haunting Kaczmarek score, and gives the sense of a very different film than the one we've seen. Speaking of trailers, the teaser for Daredevil and the full-blown preview of John Malkovich's directoral debut, The Dancer Upstairs, close out the package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Lyne works in a handful of sly self-referential touches throughout the film. Diane Lane manages a deft recreation of Jennifer Beals's fully-clothed brassiere extrication in Flashdance, though Lane accomplishes the trick while wearing a sleeveless cocktail dress instead of a bulky sweatshirt. And in a kitchen scene midway through the film, a large pot of water boils ominously, as though readying for a serving of the "rabbit surprise" from Fatal Attraction. (In his commentary, Lyne steadfastly affirms that the latter incident is sheer coincidence. The Court is not buying.)
Better than you might expect from Adrian Lyne. Though it shares elements in common with most of his previous efforts—most notably Fatal Attraction and 9 1/2 Weeks—Unfaithful is perhaps Lyne's most subtle (did you ever imagine seeing that word in a review of an Adrian Lyne film?) and mature (or that one?) picture to date. That's not to say Unfaithful is either subtle or mature, only that it's closer to those qualities (and further from crass) than Lyne has ever ventured before. Diane Lane's wrenching performance is itself worth the price of the DVD.
Unfaithful is acquitted and free to go, but is sternly cautioned by the Judge to avoid the lofts of unkempt Gallic playboys or he won't be as lenient the next time. Court stands in recess.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director Adrian Lyne
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