Unfaithful (2002)

D: Adrian Lyne
S: Diane Lane, Richard Gere

Handsome but superficial drama from Adrian Lyne, an overextended mood piece exploring marital infidelity and its consequences loosely adapted from Claude Chabrol's La Femme Infidele. Well-to-do suburban New York couple Diane Lane and Richard Gere undergo subtle shifts in their relationship when Lane meets French bookseller Olivier Martinez on a windy day in the city. As their affair develops, guilt and suspicion mount, though there is never any confrontation. Nothing terribly surprising or very interesting happens throughout this part of the movie, until about seventy minutes in, when Gere finally confronts Martinez. At this point an entirely new and much more interesting drama might have evolved (along the lines of the original), but bizarrely, the film manages to avoid really doing anything with the new plotline. It opts instead for sub-par Hitchcockian scenes of discovery anxiety before winding down with some vaguely unresolved resolution. The result is a long, meandering drabble which few will find intrinsically interesting.

The film is ultimately one part of a body of work exploring sociosexual morality in the twentieth century from this director. It sits alongside 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, and Lolita both in terms of subject and because of its plethora of scenes of soft-focus groping. Like all of Lyne's films, Unfaithful takes place in a carefully crafted visual world; an environment steeped in misty hues of brown and grey where tastefully dressed people wander in a spatial and moral labyrinth. In this sleepy, suburban space, the characters are marked by a sense of almost dreamlike disconnection from the physical environment. They live in a world of long, meaningful looks, and somnambulistic personal interaction. Normalcy is not necessarily boring, but it is a place of understatement and non-communication which Lyne crafts in direct opposition to the world of sexual impropriety.

The sex scenes are therefore, as expected, usually more urgent and driven. Peter Biziou's camera nonetheless finds the time to linger as long and as lovingly over Lane's tanned limbs as it does over the tastefully decorated, haze-hued sets and environments. The character interaction in scenes of sensual contact is inevitably more direct than those of unspoken phatic communication between husband and wife, and the sense of energy and excitement in the characters is matched by sexual contact. The point of it all is pretty obvious. Lacking the exploitative viscreality of a bona fide porno film though, this kind of erotic drama is never particularly shocking. The idea of breaking taboos and challenging expectation may be embedded in the plot, but it has been a long time since sex alone was enough to sell the movie (9 1/2 Weeks was made in 1986). While the audience can understand the basic differences between the world of acceptable behaviour and its opposite, it is difficult to find the characters' behaviours either surprising or interesting. The film needs to work much harder to hold attention, to have characters whose personalities and situation are more immediately gripping, or to use cinematic technique to cast unfamiliar complexions on otherwise familiar material.

Though its opening scenes are interesting in their linking of the turbulent weather to the chance meeting of its star-crossed lovers (a motif to which the director returns much later with a scene in a dump), they, like everything else in this movie, are overextended. Unfaithful is trying hard to be an understated adult drama which takes it time exploring the nuances of characterisation which Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr's screenplay is presumed to have. It has a rich, moody look which befits the mise en scène, and everyone involved seems to be taking the film seriously enough for the audience not to guffaw from scene one. Yet it is a film with little enough to say that hasn't been said before, and style alone does not carry it. Lane, Gere, and Martinez are fine as far as their characterisation is able to go, but with such a weight of nothingness underlying all of their moody glances and eye twitches, the performances are as empty as the story.

Unfaithful is no better or worse than the average TV movie on the same themes. It will probably therefore appeal most to casual audiences. There are more engaging genre pieces out there though, including, on not dissimilar lines, A Perfect Murder. This one is not worth seeking out.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2002.