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. "Unfaithful"

This film asks us to care about people who, for the most part, are either too self-absorbed or too emotionally confused to warrant our sympathy. The motivations are sometimes suspect; sometimes contradictory; the coincidences too convenient. There are signs of writing liberties that border on cheating. But if the writer cheats a little, it's all right, isn't it? This is a story about cheating, after all.

Trouble is, when we feel cheated it's not the same as when the characters are up to their necks in the mess it can make of a marriage. But, if the story-telling lacks a little honesty here, a little truth there, the movie does manage to pull off some poignancy, some humor, and a central role that showcases Diane Lane's considerable acting chops.

There's really nothing wrong with having a boy and girl meet and fall for each other on the spot -- in real life it happens all the time. But in a movie, the requirement is to involve us in the characters and their situation. Because that doesn't happen, there's a feeling that the lovers don't quite 'fit'. In the case of Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez, questions arise. You don't feel for this housewife and mother as she wrestles with conscience and temptation.

As though to heighten the conflict, this heretofore faithful wife is married to a handsome, mature, wealthy-enough hunk like Richard Gere, whose Edward Sumner is so complete as husband and father that he's a candidate for "Best Husband/Father of the Year". Good thing they counter this by making him a tyrannical boss at his business. But, that's for other purposes, as well.

What happens here is that Connie Sumner (Lane) has a cute-meet with Paul Martel (Martinez), a carefree bachelor with a Soho apartment. Connie, who lives with hubby and son Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan -- who previously played Fuzzy in "Cider House Rules") out in the 'burbs, regularly comes in to the city for her auctions, shopping and similarly fulfilling chores. But, after colliding with Martel in a wind storm and accepting his invitation to dress her scraped knees up in his apartment, she's given herself a great deal more to think about, like putting those Manhattan interludes to far different use.

The promises of a sexual encounter are visually fulfilled, as is the title of the movie itself. Lane is a babe; Martinez is a... well some would think "hunk", some might go for that french accent, most could see that he's appealing. But a home run? Can't go there.

But, obviously, director Adrian Lyne did in this, his latest relationship study, following up on "Indecent Proposal" (1993), and "Fatal Attraction" (1987). Some might suggest he has some issues to work through and does it by movie making sublimation. Nothing like letting it out in a creative medium.

If this were a more successful rendering of relationship intrigue, I'd advise him against ever working with a shrink because the outcome might shut down that creative flow. On the other hand, if this is the best that will come out of his angst, perhaps a few sessions might be in order. Can't help feeling that if he got a better grip he'd manage more sympathy for his characters and involvement for his audience.

You might think sympathy would be natural for the victimized husband who is so essentially calm and sensible, even though he's something else in his working environment. But the writers do not integrate his polarity sufficiently to provide understanding of his conduct in a climactic moment. His behavior with his adversary becomes quirky and jarring.

Elsewhere, the director (auteur?) resorts to informing his audience about his agenda. When Connie runs across two friends just as she's about to enter her lover's apartment building she covers her embarrassment and joins them in a nearby restaurant/bar. During this scene, which could be an outtake from "Sex and the City", she is subjected to a speech on the consequences of infidelity -- just in case we didn't get the premise of the movie.

Without harping any more on the negative, a turn to what's good about the movie would include pro acting all the way. Gere is perfectly suited to be the paragon of his community, immersed in a fulfilling life suddenly come undone; Lane is stunning, erotic and convincingly loving in all its applications, not the least of which is in her poignant relationship with her child. Martinez is suitably laid back and plays suave confidence well enough to be sexy. Eleven year old Sullivan is appropriately appealing without resorting to childhood tricks or cutsieness.

Alvin Sargent ("Dominick and Eugene", 1988; "Ordinary People", 1980) wrote the screenplay. After some doctoring by others, Lyne, who apparently was given final cut on the film, shows his moral confusion with an ending that challenges the one in "In the Bedroom". Or, perhaps, it was the hanging moral question of that one that gave Lyne permission for his own. Either way, the ambiguity doesn't serve the theme too well.

Ultimately, the film suffers because we aren't made to identify with Connie in her decisions nor react sufficiently against her to make it engaging. Somehow, it comes off as a pasteup of people-types portraying but not being. There's a commercial artificiality about it that's not entirely due to the central idea but rather to its inability to bring us along to the level of caring. We watch, but we don't feel; we see but we don't experience.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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