Adrian Lyne is a director in flux. His mainstream film pedigree shows an aptitude for the making of great porn with films containing soft lighting, perfect bodies, and well-choreographed sex. Lyne’s resume tells stories of incest (Lolita), adultery (Fatal Attraction), sex for money (Indecent Proposal) and carnal lust (Nine 1/2 Weeks). With Unfaithful, Lyne uses pieces from several prior efforts to tell a more complete adult drama, but he fails to create anything we have not seen before.
In Unfaithful, as with Fatal Attraction, Lyne uses a seemingly normal suburban family as the target for adulterous activities. Edward Sumner (Richard Gere) is the owner of an armored car company who works long hours in the office and at home. Edward’s wife, Connie (Diane Lane), appears to be the happy housewife as she gets their son Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan) dressed, fed, and off to school every morning. Connie is working on an auction fundraiser for Charlie’s school when a dark, exotic stranger Paul (Olivier Martinez) drifts into her life. (Sounds like porn, doesn’t it?) Their initial encounter is innocent, but built on a series of lies and deceptions, a fanatical love affair is struck between the two strangers.
Lyne’s primary motivation with Unfaithful is to emphasize the unrelenting sexual antics of Connie and Paul, just as he explored with Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke in Nine 1/2 Weeks. Lyne hints at the tone early in the film. As Connie walks the sidewalks of New York, a sudden windstorm picks up and elevates her skirt enough to expose her panties. Later, as her affair with Paul heats up, we’re given a heaping helping of erotic moments including the caressing of her navel, rough sex in a stairwell, and other heightened moments of passion classic to Nine 1/2 Weeks. None of this material is new or remotely stimulating.
Lyne never shows us the motivations behind Connie’s decision to waste an eleven-year marriage on an affair with a man she doesn’t even know. After injuring her knee in the aforementioned storm, Connie follows Paul to his nearby apartment for ‘treatment.’ She refuses to acknowledge the danger of going to a stranger’s home and instantly allows herself to fall for him. As for Paul, we’re given few clues to his real identity. We know is a book dealer (shades of Attraction) who uses his gift of words to attract women. I guess we’re only meant to know he is a mysterious stranger type.
Unfaithful only glosses over what could have been the most thrilling parts of this film. We’re not given the key payoff scenes between Connie and Edward as they struggle to determine the eventual course of their marriage or deal with the consequences of their actions. The ending abandons any sense of reality or closure and was received with a chorus of laughter from my preview audience.
Lane’s performance approaches something convincing as she attempts to deal with the mess she has gotten herself into, but she is nothing more than eye candy for Lyne’s camera. Gere is relegated to a supporting role as Lyne chooses to deal with his emotions quickly once the affair is discovered, rather than taking time to explore his reactions in a more meaningful way.
Unfaithful is an unsuccessful, piecemeal effort of more successful Lyne films. He has failed to give us the conflicts and thrills that made Fatal Attraction so enticing, and he only scratches the surface of the raw eroticism of Nine 1/2 Weeks. Unfaithful is just another demo reel overstating his qualifications for making porn.
Taking a ride down Naughty Lane.