Rental Review: Unfaithful

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )
DVD Extras Rating: Average

Warning: This review contains spoilers. If you wish to watch Unfaithful without any prior knowledge of the events that unfold, it is highly recommended that you hit the "back" button on your cursor right now.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, (or in layman’s, the Oscars), are notorious for short memories. You can even see it right now, in July and August, Road to Perdition seemed to have a lock on a Best Picture nomination, then came December, and now Road to Perdition only has one major nomination: Best Supporting Actor, Paul Newman. This is untrue for Unfaithful’s Diane Lane, who won raves in May when Unfaithful debuted, and she has remained on Oscar’s mind till nomination day, when she secured a nomination for Best Actress. While Unfaithful itself is a bit of a let down, Diane Lane’s performance is anything but.

At first glance, Unfaithful might appear as if it had all the makings for a fantastic film, and it did. Two time Oscar winner Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People, Julia) wrote the screenplay, and the director is Adrian Lyne, Oscar nominated director of Fatal Attraction. However, when the pieces feel together, the movie lacked a sense of cohesion. It appears as though two different screenwriters were commissioned to write one half of the movie, as the first half is a brilliant portrayal of infidelity, compulsiveness, and guilt, while the second is cinematic cliche after cliche, that ends up being just silly.

The plot focuses on a upper-class New York suburban couple, Edward and Connie Sumner and their one child, Charlie. One extraordinarily windy day, while Connie is in the city, she runs into a mysterious Frenchman, Paul Martel. Paul is extremely helpful, and when Connie goes back to thank Paul, she ends up thanking him in more ways than one, (COUGH, COUGH!). Of course, like any film infidelity, Edward finds out about his wife and Paul. Edward confronts Paul, and ends up in a blind rage, accidentally killing Paul.

I really wish that I could have had a crack at this script. I think that I really could have cleaned it up at made it into something worthy of rivaling Lyne’s opus, Fatal Attraction. First, I would have eliminated the contrivance of Edward finding out about the affair, instead, I would let the movie focus solely on Connie, and her eventual choice between pleasure and want, and family and the sacred vows. Of course, this would have eliminated the death of Paul, which would have only been better. The second Edward kills Paul, the movie turns into an episode of Law & Order and loses any chance of being a creditable movie.

I thought one interesting aspect that was brought to this movie, was the sympathy that Sargent injected into the script. Even though this indulgence is Connie’s fault, and no one else's, the script portrays her as a victim throughout the movie. A woman who couldn’t help herself after years of devotion to her husband. Giving Connie Sumner a great amount of sympathy is the cop out, when Edward kills Paul, it makes Edward the bad guy, and had Connie been portrayed as a weak woman from the beginning, it would have added a larger sense of depth to the film.

Visually, Unfaithful is a joy to watch. Smooth shots combined with symbolism of weather. (Once Connie has begins to have sex with Martel, the weather is consistently gloomy gray.) Its been a while since we have seen such a stylized movie. The grandeur of the sets and cinematography is brilliant. Director of Photography, Peter Biziou, who won an Oscar for Mississippi Burning, has filmed Unfaithful very appropriately.

The reason I rented Unfaithful was because of Diane Lane’s Oscar nomination, and I figured I should see this movie. Thus, I should spend a lot of time on the acting of this movie. Diane Lane has won the New York Critic Circle award for Best Actress, and she is certainly deserving. For a role that contained quite a bit of nudity, Lane manages to be classy. When she is with Paul, her inhabitations disappear, but when she is away from the city, you can see the guilt bubbling just below the surface. There is one scene in particular, when Connie has had her initial sexual encounter with Paul, she has a tearful ride home on the train. This montage is simply brilliant, and is the culminating 5 minutes of a great career thus far for Lane, and hopefully we will see her a lot more in the future. Richard Gere is a terribly underrated actor, and the fact that he has been left of the ballot for Best Actor for Chicago makes me angry. While his Chicago performance was deft, his real acting of the year came from Unfaithful. He plays the hurt and damaged Edward Sumner, filled with a mix of sadness and a little hatred thrown in. The other major player is Paul Martel played by Olivier Martinez. He is certainly what the role called for, and he is competent enough, but I felt that role of Connie’s lover was written a little too fatuously.

Diane Lane has worked starred in more movies than years she is old. Its certainly about time she gets the critical support she deserves, but the travesty remains that the movie itself can simply not live up to her acting. When someone says “sum of the parts,” they must be thinking about Unfaithful. This movie’s flaws, performances, camera work, and first half add up to an average movie, yet some of the individual parts are so masterful, that I do recommend Unfaithful for a viewing on a rainy day.

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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