Unfaithful (United States, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Adrian Lyne must have a fascination for examining the ins and outs of marital infidelity. Unfaithful, Lyne's first outing since the controversial Lolita, follows in the distant wake of Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal. In some ways, Unfaithful (based on Calude Chabrol's superior La Femme Infidele, which was a re-telling of "Madame Bovary") is the least complicated of the three, but the moral is the same: extra-marital sex, regardless of the underlying reasons, is a bad idea. As one character in this movie suggests, it may all start as fun and games, but, once it moves past a one-night stand, it will inevitably end badly for one or both parties.

The first two-thirds of Unfaithful are an interesting, if at times overwrought, look at how a seemingly happily-married woman can fall into an affair, and how she copes with leading a double life. She loves her son and husband, but craves the other man. For a while, the clandestine nature of this relationship is blissful, but there comes a time when complications begin to surface - she becomes careless, forgets to pick up her son after school, and tells lies that are easily disproved. Her husband becomes suspicious. That's when Unfaithful takes an unfortunate turn down a blind alley that leads to lurid melodrama.

The movie begins in Westchester County, New York (a suburb of the city), where Edward and Connie Sumner (Richard Gere and Diane Lane) are living a storybook existence. They have a comfortable marriage, a nine-year old son, Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan), and enough money to assure that their material needs are met. Then comes one windy day in Manhattan's Soho, when Connie loses her balance and is rescued by gallant Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), an impossibly good-looking book dealer whose smoldering glance catches Connie's attention. She returns the next day, ostensibly to thank him, then the day after that, with no excuse except that she finds him fascinating. Soon, they are engaged in what can only be described as sexual acrobatics (I defy anyone to attempt half the positions these two try). And, when Edward catches Connie in a seemingly innocent lie, he begins to wonder - which leads him to hire a private investigator.

No part of Unfaithful is likely to be mistaken for great art, but, as a non-demanding look at the pros and cons of adultery, this film does a decent job. One of the intriguing aspects is that Lyne doesn't fall back on the number one reason for on-screen faithlessness: the bad marriage. Edward and Connie are happy together, and clearly love one another. Connie's dalliance has more to do with the urge to explode outside of the confines of a carefully ordered life than because of a fundamental dissatisfaction with her husband. Indeed, it doesn't take long before the initial exuberance of the affair erodes into something far less heady. Connie is not in love with Paul; she's in lust with him. Their early encounters may possess a semi-romantic aura, but that has dissipated by the time they stumble into a public lavatory and go at it in a stall.

As is almost obligatory for a Lyne film, there's plenty of hot sex. Unfaithful is actually pretty tame when it comes to nudity (there are a few shots of Diane Lane's breasts and one of her buns), but there's quite a bit of simulated sexual activity, some of which requires the stamina and strength of a professional athlete. Unfaithful is surprisingly well acted, with Lane easily commanding the camera's attention. Over the years, she has developed into a capable actress with impressive range. With the possible exception of A Walk on the Moon (the other movie in which she played a cheating housewife), Lane has never been better. She is particularly effective in the scene when she finally succumbs to Paul's seduction; the combination of arousal and nervousness is powerful. Richard Gere, relegated to the role of the cuckolded husband with an expanding waistline, has found a part that agrees with him. His performance is less stiff and unyielding than is typical. French actor Olivier Martinez is borderline awful, but he's in the movie more for his looks than for his thespian capabilities.

I would almost be willing to recommend Unfaithful as a guilty pleasure if not for the final forty minutes. I hate it when screenplays take the easy way out, and that's what happens here. After the plot's big turning point, the movie loses its focus and can't decide whether it wants to be a melodrama or a crime thriller. The ending is ambiguous in all the wrong ways, and comes across as a cheat more than anything else. (I had a feeling, based on the way the closing scene was edited, that something was coming that didn't happen - it may have ended up on the cutting room floor.) The good points about Unfaithful can't overcome the movie's eventual downward spiral.

Unfaithful (United States, 2002)

Run Time: 2:04
U.S. Release Date: 2002-05-10
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Nudity, Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1