Main cast: Richard Gere (Edward Sumner), Diane Lane (Connie Sumner), Olivier Martinez (Paul Martel), Erik Per Sullivan (Charlie Sumner), Chad Lowe (Bill Stone), Dominic Chianese (Frank Wilson), Erich Anderson (Bob Gaylord), Michelle Monaghan (Lindsay), Kate Burton (Tracy), Margaret Colin (Sally), Željko Ivanek (Detective Dean), and Michael Emerson (Josh)
Director: Adrian Lyne
Should Adrian Lyne share the same dinner table with me, you can bet the tureen of hot soup will end up on his crotch. If there is anything more repulsive than an outright misogynistic movie, it is a movie like Unfaithful that sleazes and objectifies a woman’s sexuality while at the same time punishing the said woman for daring to be sexual.
Just as he made Glenn Close’s character a raving lunatic in Fatal Attraction – a movie that passes the blame of adultery strictly on the other woman – this one rips apart the adulterous wife even as it glamorizes the cuckold husband as a noble figure. Obviously Mr Lyne isn’t giving Diane Lane’s character the same get out of jail card as he gave the adulterous character played by Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction.
Thus it is more frustrating to watch Diane Lane give a performance of her life as the vulnerable adulteress Connie Sumner. In a movie where the director and scriptwriter insist on painting her as the scarlet whore, she is fighting against the tide. Lane plays Connie, a wife to a seemingly perfect husband, who embarks on an affair with Paul, a book seller, seemingly out of boredom. But Lane plays Connie as more than a bored wife: she seems to understand that sometimes it isn’t always so black and white, our reasons for doing the wrong things. In Connie’s case, what drives her to having an affair with Paul seems to be a culmination of tiny little moments: the moment when the perfect husband becomes inexplicably repulsive to her, the boredom, the ennui, and the self-destructive yearning for something… better than this dreary life of antiseptic routine of hers.
Hence she shines in this movie. Olivier Martinez is given the short stick as his role is a stereotypical sleazy Frenchman looking as greasy as hell. In fact, if I haven’t watched enough of this man’s movies to know what a sex god – albeit a short sex god – he is, I would’ve wondered what the heck is Connie thinking to even come within a mile of a greaseball like Paul.
And of course, Connie must be punished. The second half of the movie than shifts to the husband, Edward, and without Ms Lane’s expressive face and vulnerable portrayal of Connie, Unfaithful becomes yet another Punish-the-Whore crapiola masquerading as a crime drama. Richard Gere isn’t doing himself any favors here by acting as if he is sleepwalking in a field of landmines.
Ultimately, this movie is a hypocritical one. It shows scenes of Connie and Paul going at it even while telling me to disapprove at such blatant displays of sexuality. It wants to arouse me even as it wants me to be angry at being aroused at the same time. Diane Lane is fighting for the life of her character here, and she almost succeeds in turning Mr Lyne’s scenes of seedy fucking into something deeper, more complex, and hence more satisfying to watch. It is just too bad that Mr Lyne ultimately pulls the rugs from under her, and we are back to watching him punish the woman for daring to have sex.