directed by Adrian Lyne with Richard Gere, Diane Lane, and Oliver Martinez opens May 10 at Meridian, Oak Tree, Kirkland Parkplace, and others
HAND IT TO Adrian Lyne—he sticks to his m鴩er. Fifteen years after Fatal Attraction and nine after Indecent Proposal, he still knows the hold infidelity has over the moviegoing public. (Come to think of it, his '97 Lolita is also about cheating, at least in Humbert's mind.) A master of slick, burnished images, Lyne also knows the value of the familiar, the proven, and the clich餭-all of which he deploys in Unfaithful to gratifyingly professional effect. He's starting with good source material, of course, Claude Chabrol's 1969 La Femme Infid謥, and those who've seen that movie will understand why one key plot point is omitted below.
Happily married for 11 years, Connie (Diane Lane) is one of those privileged Hudson River Valley housewives who inhabit exquisite homes seemingly decorated by both Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren. (He chose the paint, and she the fabrics.) Connie has the requisite cute son and fills her days with charity auctions and facials. But during an errand in N.Y.C.—whoops!--fate intervenes on a windswept street in SoHo. Whom should she bump into, literally, but 28-year-old Paul (Before Night Falls' Oliver Martinez)? He's not only ravishingly handsome and aggressively French but also happens to live just upstairs in a fabulously decorated bohemian loft—again with the fabulous decor!--where he can tend her scraped, shapely knees. How convenient.
We all know where that's going (time check: 30 minutes to the sex), but it takes Connie's husband a little longer to follow the clues. Ironically, prosperous Edward (Richard Gere) owns an armored car firm. (Get it? He's supposed to protect things, to keep them safe, to stop people from stealing what's precious . . . but maybe this symbolism is just too darn difficult to explain.) Once the damning evidence accrues, however, Edward and Paul have a little t괥-୴괥, at which point Unfaithful gets a lot more interesting.
HOW MUCH sympathy should we feel for Connie, who brings the resulting mess upon herself? Women of Seattle, ask yourselves one question: Who's hotter—Gere or Martinez? Gere wears reading glasses and prattles distractedly about stock quotes. Martinez only wants to shag you in a bathroom stall, at the movies, in the hallway of his apartment building (conveniently unpeopled at all critical junctures). Not only hot, he's sensitive, constantly offering to make Connie coffee or tea. He's so—comment vous dites?—Continental that all Connie's friends amusingly pant for the guy when he crashes their lunch date. He even wears a scarf.
Never a master of subtlety, Lyne also pumps up the inherently melodramatic love triangle in ways that are button-pushingly obvious yet trashily enjoyable. Faced with precisely the sort of gigolo that Gere himself played 20 years ago, middle-aged Edward's first words to the young Gallic stud are "How old are you?" Lane tempers Connie's bitch-in-heat lustfulness with a tortured conscience, but that doesn't stop her from purchasing new lingerie to wear for Paul. (What's the point to shameful, uninhibited sex unless you can look great doing it?) As for Paul, he's both existentialist ("There is no such thing as a mistake") and elitist ("Go back to your suburb and your car pool!")—in other words, just the sort of stereotypical Frenchman that an English director (Lyne) loves to hate.
Yet Lyne is not without values. He's a salacious moralist at heart, wanting to savor the thrill of adultery while also fetishizing the fragile, photogenic institution of marriage. To this end, his camera spends much of its time in the kitchen, trained on glasses, cups, faucets, basins—and, yes, his signature boiling teakettles. (Unfaithful's cast is probably the most well-hydrated in screen history.) Much time is also spent cleaning (hint, hint), since there's an ever-widening stain of guilt to mop up.
Lyne famously shot and reshot different endings for Fatal Attraction, then opted for the more audience-pleasing psycho-must-be-punished finale. Here, he passes several sound endpoints for Unfaithful, adding 20 minutes of flab to an otherwise solid piece of entertainment. It gives nothing away to note that he avoids showing Chabrol's original conclusion but leaves it instead to the viewer's shaken scruples.