In 1987, director Adrian Lyne examined marital infidelity in "Fatal
Attraction." Test audiences rejected the original, relatively low-key
ending, and so a new climax was created – a cringe-inducing,
over-the-top wrap-up straight out of a slasher movie. "Fatal Attraction"
went on to become a massive worldwide hit.
Lyne returns to the subject of cheating in the romantic thriller,
"Unfaithful," based on Claude Chabrol's 1969 film, "La Femme Infidele."
Don't expect any last minute lunges this time around, though. The ending
of "Unfaithful," at least on the surface, is deliciously ambiguous.
However, a bit of reflection shows that the objects in the closing
scene's composition provide a clear look at what the future holds for
the involved characters.
Connie Sumner (Diane Lane) is a well-to-do wife and mother living in a
beautiful home in Westchester County, New York, with her husband, Edward
(Richard Gere) and rambunctious 8-year-old son, Charlie (Erik Per
Sullivan – the youngest of the "Malcolm in the Middle" boys). Connie and
Edward make a great couple; they lavish attention on each other while
holding enough separate interests to maintain their individuality.
It appears that all is idyllic in the Sumner household until Connie gets
caught in powerful winds on the streets of Manhattan. While scrambling
to hold onto a bag of charitable goods, she loses her balance and
tumbles into the arms of a rakish young man. French book dealer Paul
Martel (Olivier Martinez) invites Connie up to his apartment for some
first aid on her injured knees, and then proceeds to work his charms.
Believe me, he has charms to spare. Paul is almost prettier than Connie,
with scruffy facial hair accenting his great features and twinkling, bad
boy eyes. He does the dance of seduction, making a series of painfully
hokey philosophical pronouncements with his thick accent – the kind of
dopey pseudo-pseudo-intellectual lines that only work when delivered by
someone who is ridiculously attractive. While Connie is wary at first,
she soon succumbs to his Gallic woo-ery and ends up in the sack with
One of the things I like best about "Unfaithful" is that at no time does
Connie reveal why she started cheating on Edward. Unlike virtually every
other film in the genre, there are no scenes where she has salad with a
girlfriend and spills the beans. Instead, Lyne and writers Alvin Sargent
("Ordinary People") and William Broyles Jr. ("Entrapment") leave it to
us to decide. My theory is that, as much as she loved Edward, she also
found him a bit bland. Given the chance for a dalliance with a gorgeous
younger man, she acted at first on impulse, and then found herself
hooked to the danger of it all.
The danger factor grows when Bill Stone (Chad Lowe), an employee of
Edward's, spots the pair making out in a coffeehouse and drops a
none-too-subtle hint to Edward, who hires a private detective to follow
his wife. Again, the question of why a man in a seemingly perfect
marriage would be so quick to have his beloved followed is never
answered. I decided that his devotion masked a great insecurity over the
difference in their ages. Although he is still quite handsome, the years
are beginning to show on Edward and he can't quite believe himself
worthy of his young and beautiful spouse.
Granted, these suppositions are straight out of the orientation class of
Pysch 101, but it was still fun coming up with my own explanations
instead of having the filmmakers spell everything out in crayon.
Eventually, Edward learns the ugly truth and decides to have a talk with
Paul. I will reveal no more. Suffice to say that the visit makes life in
the Sumner household a lot more complicated.
Although the 123-minute film drags in spots, I enjoyed the scandalous
goings-on much more than I expected to, thanks in large part to Lyne's
direction. He is remarkably assured here, using poring rain, furious
winds, dropped objects and pots boiling over to set up the next moment
of high drama. His bold physicality is nicely balanced by the crisp
cinematography of Peter Biziou and a minimalist piano score by Jan A.P.
As for the three principal actors, each does exactly what is needed to
keep the pot boiling. Diane Lane provides the depth, allowing Richard
Gere to focus on being the most dedicated (later desperate) husband that
ever lived and Olivier Martinez to work that accent, especially when
hissing lines like "Go back to your suburb, your carpool!"
While "Unfaithful" offers no new insights into the human condition
(unless you're a Martian, in which case you should take notes), the
production is a thoroughly enjoyable "B" Movie all trussed up in "A"
Movie trappings. As a bonus, on the way home you can argue with your
friends over the meaning of the terrific closing scene.
Copyright © 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott