Unfaithful

| May 13, 2002

Unfaithful tells the story of husband and wife, Edward (Richard Gere) and Connie (Diane Lane) Sumner who are living the American dream: a beautiful suburban home, fabulous success, and a happy 8-year old son (Erik Per Sullivan). However, when Connie has a fateful collision with a charismatic stranger, Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), during a wild windstorm on a Soho street, she’s pulled into an affair that will become her obsession and change all their lives forever. As Edward begins to uncover his wife’s deception, he discovers an unimaginable side of himself. In an unexpected and unplanned moment, one of the principals commits a shattering act of violence.
Successful films are usually built on strong writing. Unfaithful was co-written by Alvin Sargent (The Sterile Cuckoo–1969, Love And Pain And The Whole Damn Thing–1972) and William Broyles Jr.(Apollo 13–1995 and Cast Away–2000). Mr. Sargent, who is now 75 years old, was awarded well-deserved Oscars for his writing of Julia–1977 and Ordinary People -1980, also. The writing here, “loosely” based on the Claude Chabrol 1969 French film, La Femme Infidele, merits additional award consideration for these two men.
The original musical score by Polish born Jan A.P. Kaczmarek is outstanding. While most of his earlier work has been for European films, this will earn him many more American opportunities. Oscar winning cinematographer, Peter Biziou (Mississippi Burning–1988) does great work here. Editor, 77 year old Brit, Anne V. Coates, has one Oscar (Lawrence Of Arabia–1962) and 4 other nominations, so far. Art direction/production design/set decoration are perfect. In short, if I made a film, this is exactly how I’d want it to look, sound and feel.
Unfaithful is UK born director Adrian Lyne’s eighth film. His biggest successes are Flashdance–1983, Indecent Proposal–1993, and the sensational Fatal Attraction–1987, which earned him an Oscar nomination. While this project isn’t as hyper or melodramatic as Fatal Attraction, similarities in style between the two do exist. Both explore the pleasure and pain that often result from infidelity.
Unfaithful is filled with wonderful little moments and touches that surprised me. In particular, there is one brief scene where we are shown what Connie’s character is imagining. This untaken path would have made a huge difference, and I enjoyed seeing this alternative action depicted. Director Lyne’s handling of the numerous sex scenes is inspired. Without being graphic, they are exceptionally realistic. The ample nudity never seems inappropriate or salacious.
My favorite scene occurs when Ms. Lane, as wife Connie, travels home on the commuter train after she makes love to Paul for the first time. While she is remembering/mentally reliving the pleasure the sex brought her, she is distraught from overwhelming guilt at the same time. Especially in American films, it is unusual for anyone who is happily married to commit adultery. Generally, a good reason is provided. Further, most characters that stray lose audience sympathy. For this film story to work, it is crucial that we continue to like Connie, Edward and Paul even though we don’t approve of their behavior. Lesser actors guided by lesser directors could never have made this work so compellingly.
Exceptionally well cast down to the smallest part, each of the actors is at the top of their game. This is a crossover part for Richard Gere (Pretty Woman–1990). Now in his early fifties, he has wisely chosen to stop taking parts better suited to thirty-something actors such as Olivier Martinez. Ironically, this part of Paul, the young lover, played by Mr. Martinez here is just the type part that would have gone to Mr. Gere several years back. In Unfaithful, Mr. Gere looks great, however, and has rarely been this accessible or likeable. As Connie, Diane Lane (The Perfect Storm–2000) is sensational. Justice dictates that she receive a best actress Oscar nomination. This is a breakthrough part for Oliver Martinez. Having seen him in The Horseman On The Roof (France–1995), I’m not surprised at his effectiveness/success here. The son of a French mother and a Spanish father, he reminds me of the young Alain Delon (Purple Noon–1960). As Edward and Connie’s son, Charlie, Erik Per Sullivan (“Fuzzy” in The Cider House Rules–1999, “Dewey” in Malcolm In The Middle) makes another strong impression. In smaller parts, Chad Lowe, Kate Burton and Margaret Colin register vividly.
As I guess you know by now, I really like Unfaithful. I find it to be haunting, provocative, intricate, torrid, surprising, accomplished, smart, and complex.

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