She reacts with a wild variety of emotions to the images that play in her head, sunk at that moment in abandon, joy, and guilt.
An Illusion review by Joan Ellis
Unfaithful is a good movie mostly undone by a wrong-headed turn delivered in one offensive, unnecessary stroke. As usual when a studio is edging up to quality, it caves in to Hollywood’s collective view that audiences aren’t smart enough to grasp subtleties. With the same mindset he brought to Fatal Attraction, director Adrian Lyne diminishes the core of the film, a provocative look at the cost of infidelity. Still, see it for that, and for an outstanding performance by Diane Lane.
Connie Sumner (Diane Lane) has it all: house, pond, land, dog, son, and loving husband. She’s lucky and she knows it. Edward Sumner (Richard Gere) is grateful too – for his good life with a loving wife. They come home at night to 8-year-old Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan), a little guy with big ears who soaks up their attention and love.
The fact that director Lyne presents us with two decent, bright people allows us to sink into the film without preconceptions about the affair we know is coming. When Connie collides in a rainstorm with Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), she responds not from the trap of an unpleasant life, but from lust. She is caught by the thirst for the physical discovery of another human being. Paul, a seller of rare books, is a handsome young French cad. His artful seduction is an invitation Connie can’t resist for long.
Diane Lane is astonishing. She is entirely comfortable portraying the satisfied suburban wife and mother, and entirely at ease with the woman who makes the choice to have a steamy extended affair. On the train that takes her home from Soho after her life has changed, she acts a rare scene where she nails the emotions of adultery. Sitting alone in the train seat, Connie reflects, through the flashbacks playing in her head, on what she has done. She reacts with a wild variety of emotions to the images that play in her head, sunk at that moment in abandon, joy, and guilt.
Richard Gere is fine as the contented man who wants no more than what he already has as half of a good, if familiar marriage. There are probably very few people who have engaged in adultery without discovering the devastating consequences that spread out like an angry infection among family and friends. In a fine short appearance, as a friend, Kate Burton tries to give Connie the lesson of her own experience, but lust unleashed has to run its course. The movie is a sharp, intelligent look at the entanglements and complications of temporal passion.
With a genuinely good drama in his hands, Director Lyne should have known that with these terrific actors, he could capture the audience and sustain the mood. Instead, he reaches back to his earlier shocker for a lightning bolt that yanks us from thinking about the dilemmas he has framed so well on the screen. We ordinary folk weren’t up to that, were we?
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