Movies | Lust And Consequences

Diane Lane, long one of Hollywood's most underrated talents, gives a stunning, star-making performance in Adrian Lyne's "Unfaithful." She plays Connie Sumner, a wealthy, happily married suburban mom who impulsively hurls herself into an affair with a hunky 28-year-old French book dealer (Olivier Martinez) in New York's SoHo. (Has anybody ever met a rare-book dealer who looks like this?) In a bravura erotic sequence, Lyne shows us their first sexual encounter not as it's happening, but as Connie remembers it immediately afterward, riding the train back to her husband (Richard Gere). Lost in a post coital reverie, physically and emotionally disheveled, Lane wordlessly shows us the emotional tumult raging inside Connie, as lust, fear, excitement, shame, anguish and embarrassment flood her face in overlapping waves.

Connie is hooked on romance like a junkie craving a fix. She's unmoored from her life, oblivious to her husband's suspicions and increasingly neglectful of her son (Erik Per Sullivan). The movie, written by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr., is hypnotic as it charts her gradual immersion into obsession. You know, of course, that catastrophe lurks--this is, after all, the man who made "Fatal Attraction."

Sure enough, about 75 minutes into the tale, Something Happens. I won't spoil any surprises, but I wish the filmmakers had realized they didn't need these kinds of surprises. Let's just say "Unfaithful" takes a melodramatic turn and becomes a more generic, plot-driven Hollywood movie. False notes intrude: there's a crucial scene in which the husband goes to confront the young lover at his apartment, and from the start Gere's behavior is out of character. A man used to being in charge, he'd never put himself in that situation.

Lyne is a gifted and frustrating movie-maker. Is the punishing moralism and misogyny that surfaces in "Fatal Attraction" and the silly "Indecent Proposal" for real--or just his calculated notion of what the American moviegoer wants? He may have reason to be cynical, when his most pandering films become huge hits, and his more interesting, honest movies--"Foxes," "Jacob's Ladder"--don't find an audience. When it's a movie about desire, "Unfaithful" shows what a powerful, sexy, smart filmmaker Lyne can be. It's a shame he substitutes the mechanics of suspense for the real suspense of what goes on between a man and a woman, a husband and a wife.

Unfaithful20th Century Fox
Opens May 10