Thursday, 16 February 2017

Movie Review: Unfaithful (2002)


A story of lust and betrayal in an idyllic middle class suburban household, Unfaithful unfortunately abandons an ambitious exploration of human instincts and veers towards more routine and much less interesting fare.

In a tony suburb of New York City, business owner Edward Sumner (Richard Gere) lives with his wife Connie (Diane Lane) and eight year old son Charlie. The marriage appears healthy and the couple are comfortably moving into middle age. On a visit to the city on a windswept day, Connie literally bumps into handsome book dealer Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), a much younger and irresistibly attractive man.

Unable to control her impulses, Connie arranges several follow-up meetings and soon she is carrying on a hot affair with Paul, with frequent sex sessions at his apartment. Her lies catch up to her, Edward suspects that something is wrong and hires a private detective to tail his wife. But the threat to their marriage takes an even worse turn when Edward reacts badly upon confronting Paul.

Directed by Adrian Lyne, Unfaithful boasts a promising start but a rapidly disintegrating second half. The film sets out to explore the forces that shape infidelity, and the emotional and psychological toll imposed by all the lying and deception. There is a tremendous story to be told about why a seemingly content wife decides to stray, and for a while, Unfaithful steps forward into the rich terrain of a marriage under threat of insidious erosion, with parenting as collateral damage.

Then Lyne and his screenwriters Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr. (adapting a Claude Chabrol film) take a left turn towards Hitchcockian suspense territory, and Unfaithful never recovers. A carpet is used to warp a body, a moody elevator breaks down just at the wrong moment, a corpse is stuffed in a car trunk then a landfill, and all the carefully built up subtle domestic tension seeps out of the screen in favour of more blatant and over-familiar thriller elements.

And in a further neck twisting change of gears, Unfaithful converts to a brooding study of a damaged couple jointly coping with cascading crises of conscience. The sharp changes in tone are disorienting, and the film appears to work extra hard to undermine its own effectiveness in any one key.

Visually Unfaithful is enriched with touches of class, and stylistically Lyne still loves to create steamy and artistic sex scenes, Olivier Martinez and Diane Lane obliging with several window-fogging private and public romps. Lane owns the first part of the film and creates a complex portrait of a happy wife and lust-seeking lover, before Gere takes over in the second and weaker half.

Unfaithful is part of a very good film, before treacherous narrative missteps betray the good intentions.






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