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(2002) (Diane Lane, Richard Gere) (R)

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Drama: A married woman's affair with another man puts a strain on her relationship with her husband and leads both to desperate acts that they must cover up.
Connie (DIANE LANE) and Edward Sumner (RICHARD GERE) seem to be a happily married, middle-aged couple that's raising their 8-year old son, Charlie (ERIK PER SULLIVAN) in the suburbs of New York. Yet, while Edward is off running his business, Connie seems wanting something more. She gets that when she accidentally runs into Paul Martel (OLIVIER MARTINEZ) on the streets of SoHo.

Paul, a much younger used book dealer, invites Connie up to his apartment to tend to her scraped knees and she reluctantly agrees. Sparks immediately fly and soon she's repeatedly returning for more visits while also lying to Edward about her activities. It's not long before she begins her affair with Paul or that Edward starts to notice her acting differently.

From that point on and as Edward's suspicions grow, Connie tries to decide whether to end or continue with her affair, a point that eventually leads to results that none of the involved parties could have anticipated.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Most film directors usually try to branch out and make films in all sorts of genres, but some are either pigeonholed into making certain types of movies or purposefully choose to do so. Although he's dabbled in a few other genres, more than half of director Adrien Lyne's eight pictures have been sexually charged dramas, often dealing with taboo or dangerous affairs of the heart and loins.

Before his last such film - 1997's remake of "Lolita" - turned out to be too controversial for most distributors and/or theaters, the filmmaker delved in purchased affairs (1993's "Indecent Proposal"), steamy ones (1986's "Nine and ½ Weeks") and affairs that turned out quite badly (1987's "Fatal Attraction").

With that track record, I guess it shouldn't really surprise anyone that he's returned to the genre with his latest effort, "Unfaithful." Starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez as the triangular participants, the film is something of a remake of French director Claude Chabrol's 1968 picture "La Femme Infidèle."

Although the advertisements are making it out to look like an "affair gone bad" sort of thriller along the lines of "Fatal Attraction" but with the guilty party's gender reversed, it doesn't really heat up until late in the game. Until then, it's really just a standard drama - albeit a handsome looking one - revolving around an affair.

For some, of course, the combination of "heat up" and Lyne means steamy sex scenes and this film delivers its quota of sweaty, panting bodies, meaning that those who like such material probably won't be disappointed. For everyone else, however, there isn't a great deal of substance here that doesn't occur everyday on network soap operas and it will likely remind viewers of the setup in "A Perfect Murder."

The plot here - penned by screenwriters Alvin Sargent ("Spider-Man," "Ordinary People") and William Broyles, Jr. ("Planet of the Apes," "Cast Away") - isn't as complex as that one. It also really doesn't offer much in the way of interest - at least until a certain violent act spins the story around into a completely different direction - and may drag on for many viewers until then.

That is, unless you're into heavy-handed, visual symbolism. Lyne and cinematographer Peter Biziou ("The Truman Show," "Richard III") lay it on so thick that you can't help but imagine that they got a great deal on industrial grade trowels and then went to town slopping the imagery on one scene after the next.

Perhaps sensing that there's not much to engage the viewer beyond the attractive cast and sexual encounters, Lyne and company have resorted to visuals that hammer the viewer a tad too hard and a bit too many times. When it's not certain characters dropping warnings or lines of dialogue that are too obvious both to the characters and viewers, Lyne uses a ridiculous downtown windstorm to show us that change is blowing in. Then there's the pots boiling over in the kitchen scene representing the soon to erupt familial situation.

That, and all of the extreme close-ups of otherwise mundane items eventually gets a bit old, ridiculous and overbearing. There's also the "he/she wouldn't do that" material, including but not limited to Lane's character going into a complete stranger's apartment. Doesn't she know "I'm not an ax murderer" is the oldest line in the danger book and some of the last words heard by victims? It also doesn't help that the characters aren't sympathetic and thus don't engage the viewer into wishing the best for them.

Playing the adulterous wife, Diane Lane ("The Glass House," "Hardball") delivers a good performance and gets a lot more out of the character than appears to be written in the script, notwithstanding all of the unbelievable behavior or the fact that she already played a very similar role in "A Walk on the Moon." Yet, her character isn't remotely likable due to her actions, and there isn't enough of a credible reason for us to believe she'd so casually have the affair (all of which makes her seem shallower).

Richard Gere ("The Mothman Prophecies," "Dr. T & The Women") successfully downplays his normal cocky swagger and demeanor as the cheated upon and increasingly suspicious husband. The downside to that is that he then seems to inhabit a rather flat and uninteresting character, although some late in the game developments make things a bit more interesting.

As the young, carefree lover, Olivier Martinez ("Before Night Falls," "Horseman on the Roof") plays the stereotypical role to perfection, but seems like a second-rate Viggo Mortensen (who played the similar part in "A Perfect Murder" and "A Walk on the Moon" and must have been too busy filming the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy to play that sort of part again).

Considering all of the problems, the film is nevertheless still somewhat compelling to watch, but in an odd sense. I don't know if that's just because of the attractive cast and overall visual look or because of the anticipation of the pending family train wreck, but I never felt quite as bored or irritated as I probably should have. That fact doesn't really redeem the picture, but is something worth pointing out.

The majority of the film, however, is unremarkable, as we've seen this sort of story told countless times before, and usually with far better results. Proving that perhaps Lyne should take a break from the sexually charged material and try something else for a while, "Unfaithful" isn't the thriller it's advertised to be and isn't a good and/or original enough drama to compensate for that. The film rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 2, 2002 / Posted May 10, 2002

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