Judge Christopher Kulik became unfaithful when he stopped eating Ho-Hos and Twinkies.
A sexual passion so intense it consumed everything—and everyone—that crossed its path.
French cinema has always been able to provide films for American studios to remake. Usually they consist of comedies like La Cage Aux Folles (which became the The Birdcage) or Les Comperes (which became Fathers' Day). Occasionally, however, a French drama would be deemed accessible enough to re-do, such as The Man Who Loved Women and Cousin, Cousine.
In 2002, director Adrian Lyne presented a remake of Claude Chabrol's La Femme Infidele and the results were better than expected, with extraordinary performances, including a long overdue Academy Award nomination for Diane Lane. Now that Unfaithful arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Fox, does the film look and sound even better?
Facts of the Case
Happily married wife and mother Constance "Connie" Sumner (Diane Lane, Untraceable) chances to meet handsome French bookseller Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez, Taking Lives) on a particularly blustery day in NYC. She's turned on by his charm and studly appearance, and he likewise finds her scrumptious. Unbeknownst to her loving, devoted husband Ed (Richard Gere, An Officer And A Gentleman), she and Paul generate a passion-filled love affair. What will Ed do once he learns of his wife's infidelity?
I've always considered Adrian Lyne a stylish but frustrating director. The guy has an unerring eye for detail and an uncanny way of presenting the simplicity and nuances of life. He also never fails in perfectly capturing the eroticism and carnality between consenting adults, with love scenes burning with passion and sweat in equal doses. However, why does he always choose stories that are a) thin, b) predictable, c) downright dumb, or d) all of the above?
Flashdance was a visual exercise that was all flash and no substance, building its popularity mostly on an Oscar-winning pop song. Fatal Attraction is one of the most overrated pictures of all time, a potentially compelling story ruined by slasher-movie dynamics; it was so unoriginal it should have been called Play Misty for Me II: The Wrath of Alex. Finally, 9½ Weeks and Indecent Proposal were so overwrought and distasteful they made one wince with embarrassment. Up until now, the only two films Lyne has made that had me hooked were the haunting Jacob's Ladder and his excellent adaptation of Lolita, both of which audiences largely (and unfortunately) ignored.
Lyne's latest, Unfaithful, isn't great but very good; a rock-solid B+ by any standards. While the story still has its fair share of faults, Lyne has certainly come a long way from music video maniacs and boiled bunnies. I haven't seen the original film, mind you, but Lyne's version is strikingly glossy and blessed with three outstanding performances. In fact, Unfaithful works best as an actor's showcase. Gere is surprisingly low-key, giving one of his finest performances to date as a very faithful husband who finds himself in a tainted marriage he can't fathom. The unknown Martinez also strikes all the right notes as the French lover who loves to unleash sexual satisfaction. One scene that really stands out is the one when both men meet, which is full of tense awkwardness and silent power.
However, we all know the film's real asset is Diane Lane. She's always been a fine actress, but has somehow gone unnoticed for 20 years before Unfaithful. She worked with Gere before in The Cotton Club, and has reteamed with him once again for the Nicholas Sparks' drama Nights In Rodanthe. The chemistry between them is authentic, and the erotic tension between Lane and Martinez is fabulous. Lane is absolutely riveting throughout Unfaithful, as she nails the innocent, schoolgirl approach to the affair as well as the painful guilt she must endure later on. She's so good it's a shame she had to face such tough competition come Oscar time, as Nicole Kidman won by a nose for The Hours. (My personal pick was Julianne Moore's heartbreaking turn as—ironically enough—1950s housewife who has an affair in Far From Heaven.
As with many Fox releases on Blu-ray, this one takes the standard version and gives it a high-def makeover without really adding anything new. Nevertheless, the Blu polish on Unfaithful is mesmerizing from first shot to last. In a picture that sports a lot of flesh, the tones are pitch-perfect, and the black levels are equally phenomenal. There isn't the slightest trace of anomalies or edge enhancement anywhere in the 1.85:1 non-anamorphic, 1080p widescreen print (with AVC codec). The cinematography by Peter Biziou (The Truman Show) is given the proper respect, as his light and dark levels are lovingly rendered.
Fox also scores big time with the audio, which features the usual DTS HD master lossless 5.1 track. The intense piano score by Jan Kaczamarek comes through intact with no problems, with appropriate back and front speaker action. Flipping over to the DD 5.1 tracks in French and Spanish yielded similar results, as the music and sound effects were equally saturated. Fox is also generous in terms of subtitle options, with four other languages offered aside from English SDH.
There are no new exclusive bonus features, but the all the ones from the original disc are ported over:
Commentary with Adrian Lyne: Even though this track has only one participant, Lyne proves to be a very ingratiating and informative speaker. There are very few gaps in this worthwhile discussion of adapting Chabrol's original, casting actors, and being taken aback at Lane's naturalness on camera. Lyne is certainly pleased with the results, but he refrains from excessive back-patting, which was admirable.
Scene-Specific Actors' Commentary: Several scenes feature comments from Diane Lane and others from Olivier Martinez. Of the two, Lane dominates as she talks about getting involved in the project and the endorphin excitation of affairs. Unfortunately, Martinez is not nearly as informative, but does put in his two cents from time to time. They were recorded separately, which is also a debit.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary: Eleven discarded scenes are presented with additional comments by Lyne, along with an audio intro where he explains he's in France as he talks about these. All of the scenes are negligible but interesting, and Lyne gives good reasons in excising them. As a bonus, we hear from Lyne's wife as she's doing little things around the house.
The Charlie Rose Show Interview: Recorded before the film's premiere, this interview with Lyne, Gere and Lane repeats info from the commentary and featurettes, but it's great to see all three of them together and do some joking around. Only downside is some clips are included.
Behind-the-Scenes Featurette: Entitled "An Affair To Remember," this non-promotional doc is worth watching for Gere's comments as well as more of Lyne's approach to adapting the original French film, which he has a great affection for. Lane also chimes in on her friendship with Gere, which has lasted since The Cotton Club.
Editing Featurette: Anne V. Coates drops by for a few words of wisdom regarding the editing.
Also included are some additional cast interviews, director's script notes, and the original theatrical trailer. All in all, a terrific batch of extras which fans will love to dive into.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As good as Unfaithful was, I still had the usual frustrations with any Lyne film. Most of them are projected to top screenwriters Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People) and William Broyles, Jr. (Cast Away), who shockingly go for a conventional third act. The ambiguous ending (which Lyne fought the studio for) is certainly a nice touch, but the story still was stretched out more than I would have liked. Without revealing what happens, let's just say the story goes more or less where you expect it to go, as surprises are few and far between.
In this sense, overlength is Unfaithful's biggest sin, but I also would have preferred some hint or metaphor—however small—that would have justified Connie's motivation to have an affair. This was a similar problem I had with Lyne's earlier Fatal Attraction, which gave Michael Douglas' character no excuse whatsoever to sleep with Glenn Close. The major difference was I actually cared enough for Connie (something I can't really explain, but Lane is so persuasive in her portrayal), while Douglas was nothing more than a horny bastard who could have prevented the inevitable by keeping his ding-dong in his damn pants. I'm not expecting a Barney-style explanation in terms of character need, just some kind of clue, at the very least, as to why.
The running time and affair's purpose are really minor nitpicks. Unfaithful still emerges as an intoxicating and seductive adult drama with more intelligence than the direct-to-DVD, heavy-breathing garbage from people like Zalman King. Fox's Blu-ray treatment goes above and beyond the call of duty on the technical end, giving me enough of a recommendation for an upgrade from your standard DVDs.
The Sumners and the movie are free to go, while Fox is found not guilty for a flawless Blu-ray presentation.
Court is adjourned!
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