Fear and desire are constant, palpable presences in Adrian Lyne's "Unfaithful," a mesmerizing drama of adultery based on Claude Chabrol's 1969 French thriller, "La Femme Infidele."
Lyne has taken Chabrol's movie, one of the most celebrated art-house thrillers of the '60s, and deftly reshaped it for an American setting (Manhattan and suburban Westchester County), drenching the screen in glamour and dread. It's a movie about sexuality that really throbs with eroticism. It's also a suspense drama that pulses with threat. Plunging us into sensual abandon and then dropping down into moral chaos, Lyne's film, like the impassioned, adulterous affair it portrays, is compulsively, scarily watchable.
Much of that visual attraction comes from the cast. Lyne's three central actors - Richard Gere and Diane Lane as a seemingly happy White Plains couple, and Olivier Martinez ("The Horseman on the Roof") as the SoHo bookseller who seduces her - are among the best-looking people in movies today. And the story depends as much on their physical beauty as on the calculated twists of the plot. The sheer seductiveness of the SoHo and White Plains settings and the cast - Lane's still-glowing thirtysomething sensuality and the glib, reckless charm of Martinez and Gere - aren't just Hollywood givens. They're part of a sensuous texture the film creates and then rips apart.
Charged with sex and danger, smartly written by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles, "Unfaithful" puts you into a mood of near-swoony angst, then shocks you awake. "La Femme Infidele" was about the moral swamp that lies under a seemingly perfect bourgeois lifestyle. Lyne's film is about that and something more: sexual winners who become losers.
For the film's first hour, we follow suburban wife Connie Sumner (Lane) into what seems to be a casual affair - blossoming from her chance meeting with French bookseller Paul Martel (Martinez) on a preposterously windswept day - but quickly consumes her. After two more meetings, she's hooked, and Paul, a practiced seducer, keeps reeling her in. It's obvious she's not his only current conquest, that he's detached and manipulative, but it's also clear they're both in the grip of obsession, drunk on each other's flesh.
In hallways, elevators, cafe restrooms, as well as in Paul's Mercer Street loft, the lovers seize and claw at each other insatiably. Lyne is great at sex scenes - they're the cornerstone of his reputation as a filmmaker - and he doesn't disappoint here.
Unlike "La Femme Infidele," which focuses on the husband throughout, "Unfaithful" shifts halfway through from Connie to husband Edward (Gere), the easygoing president of an armored-truck company. This is where the new movie most closely parallels "Femme Infidele": slowly, anxiously, we see Edward's awakening suspicion.
Edward is someone who seems to have near-complete control of his environment and the people around him, who fires employees without a qualm and treats his wife with affectionate tolerance. The husband from "Femme Infidele," named Charles, was consummately played by the physically plain Michel Bouquet as a man married to a woman who seemed too beautiful for him (Stephane Audran). Here, Gere's good looks make him less pitiable. We may even vaguely suspect (because of Gere's cocky persona) that, however domesticated Edward seems now, he might have had an affair in his past, that old sexual self-confidence may be driving him and the movie to a terrible reckoning.
Gere and Lane have rarely been better. I was reminded, watching them, of their previous joint outing in Francis Coppola's ultra-romantic (and underrated) "The Cotton Club" and also of recent movies like Gere's "Dr. T and the Women" (where he played a charming gynecologist) and Lane's "A Walk on the Moon" (where she played another adulterous wife and mother).
These two are romantic movie actors in an old and new sense; they can be mysterious and glamorous on screen and also ferociously intimate. Here, they give naked performances, emotionally stripped even when they have all their clothes on - and though Martinez is less confident acting in English, he admirably catches Paul's wily, extroverted sexuality.
Lyne has been accused of being a mere decorator dabbling in movie sensuality. His "9 1/2 Weeks" was overheated, "Indecent Proposal" was a lewd joke, and "Fatal Attraction" was marred by its reshot, "Halloween"-style bloodbath ending. But here he's found a near-perfect subject for his fussy, visually ravishing style and erotic gifts. These cold, gorgeous shots of the lovers and the stalking husband may sometimes resemble TV commercials, but that suits the subject. The movie is about people trapped by gaudy lifestyles, vulnerable to appearances, imprisoned by media-fed drives and desires.
All the accolades Lyne got for "Fatal Attraction" - and didn't really merit - he deserves here. He's a director with a gift for swanky romance, and this is a film about a romance so intoxicating it drives people crazy. It's a movie about getting carried away, and what's most successful about it is the way it carries you away as you watch: hot with lust, cold with rage, staring into the ashy abyss of what only seem to be perfect lives.
"Unfaithful"3 1/2 Stars
Directed by Adrian Lyne; written by Alvin Sargent, William Broyles, based on the screenplay and film "La Femme Infidele," written and directed by Claude Chabrol; photographed by Peter Biziou; edited by Anne V. Coates; production designed by Brian Morris; music by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek; produced by Lyne, G. Mac Brown. A 20th Century Fox/Fox 2000 Pictures/Regency pictures release; opens Friday, May 10. Running time: 2:04. MPAA rating: R (sexuality, language, a scene of violence).
Connie Sumner - Diane Lane
Edward Sumner - Richard Gere
Paul Martel - Olivier Martinez
Bill Stone - Chad Lowe
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Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune Movie Critic.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times