Whether through clever marketing, corrupt arrangements, or sheer dumb luck (all of which operate in the film industry), the producers of Unfaithful probably benefit as much from its positioning as from its considerable publicity. Sandwiched between last week’s smash hit Spider-Man and next week’s guaranteed boffo, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Adrian Lyne’s new movie provides a contrast to the spectacular seasonal blockbusters exploding with action, violence, and special effects. A bourgeois melodrama in a tradition as old as the novel itself, Unfaithful should appeal to a slightly more mature audience than those seasonal spectacles that many now regard as obligatory spring rituals.
Richard Gere and Diane Lane are Edward and Connie Sumner, a comfortable, handsome, fortunate couple who live in a spacious house in an affluent New York suburb somewhere on the Hudson River. They have a whimsical dog of the sort that always turns up in the movies, and one of those obnoxiously cute children (Erik Per Sullivan) that Hollywood seems to breed in large numbers, perhaps in the same location as those dogs. Edward owns and runs a thriving trucking company, while Connie apparently occupies her days taking care of the house, seeing friends, and doing charity work.
So placid and satisfactory a situation, as anyone experienced in the ways of cinema and literature knows, must inevitably lead to disorder and sorrow. Narrative art frequently creates deceptively happy circumstances precisely in order to demonstrate their precariousness, to reveal some difficult truth beneath the thin skin of what we sometimes foolishly regard as reality. Shopping in SoHo during a ferocious windstorm --- even nature conspires to threaten human happiness --- Connie is literally blown into the central complication of the film, in the person of a young Frenchman named Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez). Colliding with him, she scrapes her leg; he gallantly invites her up to his spacious Bohemian loft filled with the rare books he buys and sells, then offers her first aid, tea, and a heavy dose of Continental charm, which sets Connie’s heart throbbing.
Despite the security and solidity of her life, she cannot stop thinking about her new acquaintance, and returns to the city to thank him in person, a self-deceiving act that, as the audience of course knows, will ignite a torrid love affair. Her passion for Paul, consummated madly in all sorts of settings and circumstances (including a quickie in a restaurant bathroom while two friends wait for her at a table), forces Connie to create a shaky edifice of evasions and deceptions. As inevitably as just about everything else in the movie, it disintegrates, through the same sort of accident that initiated the romance. Suspicious, her husband hires a private detective, discovers the truth, and then things really grow tense and complicated.
Unfaithful depends on a structure of chance occurrences that, taken sequentially, establish an implacable fate, as if the merely random events of any life, including moments of spontaneity and passion, form a pattern of doom that the participants cannot foresee. It also depends upon a tradition of female adultery that animates Western literature, especially the European novel, through its many generations. In her apparently unrealized dissatisfaction with the safe predictability of her life, and perhaps even some sense of a romantic possibility in herself, Connie Sumner shares common ground with Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina.
In the sheer heat of her sexual passion, however, Connie also resembles some of the other females in Adrian Lyne’s pictures, like Kim Basinger’s character in Nine and a Half Weeks and Glenn Close’s in Fatal Attraction. Lyne likes to dwell, somewhat voyeuristically, on the sensual possibilities of illicit relationships, along with their destructive results. In another novelistic tradition, the sort of Victorianism that fits nicely into Hollywood tradition, he tends to show that sexual transgression can lead to special punishment, the sorts of calamities that occur in writers as different as Hawthorne, Hardy, and George Eliot.
Lyne exploits a hitherto unrevealed sensuality in Diane Lane, who displays a fiery sexiness beneath an exterior of classy, chilly WASP elegance and control. He also extracts a subdued, passive performance from Richard Gere, oddly cast as the cuckolded husband. Here for once Gere keeps his clothes on and, though he underacts throughout, the sad complications of his countenance hint at some depths of emotion. Olivier Martinez, however, will probably emerge from Unfaithful as a rising star. Dark and handsome, speaking in a soft, husky voice, maintaining the requisite three days growth of beard, exuding sexual arrogance, and, well, French after all, this guy is probably the new Eurostud, the real Antonio Banderas. His encounter with Gere nicely suggests the confrontation between two generations of male sex symbols, and I guess we all know who’ll win this contest.
Unfaithful, starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Olivier Martinez, Erik Per Sullivan, Chad Lowe, Dominic Chianese; screenplay by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles, Jr.; based on La Femme Infidèle, directed by Claude Chabrol; directed by Adrian Lyne. Cinemark Tinseltown; Hoyts Greece Ridge; Loews Webster; Pittsford Plaza Cinema; Regal Culver Ridge; Regal Eastview; Regal Henrietta.