It's been about five years since director Adrian Lyne stepped behind the camera. That's far too long for this unjustly overlooked filmmaker whose past credits include "Fatal Attraction," "9 1/2 Weeks" and his perfect imagining of "Lolita." Lyne's newest blend is "Unfaithful" (IMDb listing), a sexual obsession and infidelity tale (a remake of the French film "Les Femmes Infidele") laced with undertones of bloodshed that only someone with Lyne's well-worn poker face could pull off.
Connie (Diane Lane, "The Perfect Storm") is a devoted wife to Edward (Richard Gere), and mother to her anxious nine year-old son Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan, "Malcolm In The Middle"). During one incredibly windy day in the city, Connie accidentally knocks down book dealer Paul (Olivier Martinez, "The Horseman On The Roof"), and skins her knees. Connie returns to Paul's apartment to nurse her leg wounds, but Paul has other plans, and soon begins a slow seduction of the happily married Connie. Connie is overwhelmed by the attention, and dives into the affair with open arms, but a troubled heart. Soon enough, Connie learns that she can't keep her secrets forever, and when Edward begins to suspect infidelity, her warm and safe world slowly begins to fall apart.
Lyne is the king of multiplex sensuality, and "Unfaithful" doesn't disappoint in the manner of flesh bared and sexual liaisons dealt with head on. But what makes Lyne rise above a plethora of late night "Skinemax" titles that cover essentially the same ground is his utter dedication to lust. A lust that is a driving force in all of the characters, whether it be for sex or revenge. Lyne loves to explore this, though lust always seems to end badly in his films. I have to hand it to the filmmaker, as ludicrous as some of the situations get in "Unfaithful" (Lyne stages one sex scene in a movie theater, another in a coffee shop restroom), you don't laugh out loud, you don't even smile. Lyne has a hypnotic ability to render sexuality with all the undeniable allure that it wields. "Unfaithful" is unflinching, engrossing filmmaking, and if it's not overwhelmingly great like some past Lyne films, at least it represents a return to form for the director.
While Lyne's mood takes "Unfaithful" from A to C, star Diane Lane fills her B requirements flawlessly. While normally an under utilized actress, Lane's commanding lead performance here should go a long way to earning this good actress some much deserved accolades. Playing a not quite lonely, but more adventure-starved wife and mother, Lane takes her vulnerability and delightfully honest lived-in looks and builds a respectable character who commits reprehensible acts. You don't hate Connie for what she does, as Lane and Lyne take measure and time to understand Connie's motivations. It's a fantastic performance by Lane. Her career best.
In the more showy role of the cuckolded husband, Richard Gere forgoes all glam and presto! becomes a suburban dad. Tough to imagine, but with his golf sweaters and slightly hunched-over walk, Gere, for possibly the first time in his career, loses himself in the role. And in that process, also drops many of the restrictive traits that have kept him from doing his best work in recent years. Gere's role is somewhat minimal until the last act, but his performance gets better with the more he's allowed to do.
"Unfaithful" takes a violent and unexpectedly nerve-wracking turn for its climax, but that doesn't damage the momentum carefully built by Lyne. It's a picture that revels in languid charms and lurid pleasures, and in the middle of a summer filled with explosions and effects, "Unfaithful" is a nice getaway to the sins of the flesh.
Filmfodder Grade: B+