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Society mom can't resist stranger in 'Unfaithful'

Friday, May 10, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Who, in her right mind, would cheat on Richard Gere? Or, to be technical, the character he plays in "Unfaithful"?


RATING: R for sexuality, language, a scene of violence

STARRING: Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Olivier Martinez

DIRECTOR: Adrian Lyne

WEB SITE: unfaithfulmovie.com



Well, when you get a gander at Olivier Martinez, a man who looks like he should be in his skivvies on a Times Square billboard, you might understand why -- even if you cannot condone the actions of Connie Sumner (Diane Lane). It's not that Connie has the 11-year itch, but once she literally runs into the sexy stranger, she's a goner.

Connie and Ed Sumner (Gere) have been married for nearly a dozen years, have a slightly goofy but sweet son named Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan) and a life in a New York bedroom community that seems awfully comfortable. Ed owns an armored-security business, and Connie busies herself volunteering for a fund-raiser at her son's private school, planning the boy's ninth birthday party and the usual shopping and lunching.

One day, Connie is in Soho when she is caught in a windstorm worthy of "The Wizard of Oz" and literally propelled into a handsome man toting a stack of books. They collide, she scrapes and bloodies her knee and he offers her a bandage from his nearby apartment. "I'm not an ax murderer. I promise," he says in accented French.

After accepting his hospitality and help, she discovers he's a 28-year-old book dealer named Paul Martel (Martinez) from Paris. This first encounter leaves her with nothing more than a souvenir book -- with, it turns out, his business card inside. It prompts a phone call and then a visit which leads to an affair that starts with reluctance and goes to raw and red-hot in short order.

Ed begins to suspect his wife is having an affair, even as Connie engages in increasingly reckless behavior and entertains second thoughts about the fetching Frenchman. Swirling around them are Ed's perception that an employee has been unfaithful -- by being courted by competitors -- and Connie's coffeetime conversation with two friends about infidelity. When one suggests an affair could be a delightful diversion, another cautions that affairs always end disastrously.

"Unfaithful" shows us what happens in this case, as the affair has unforeseen effects on everyone -- Connie, Ed, Paul and even Charlie.

Director Adrian Lyne was inspired to make "Unfaithful" by the 1969 Claude Chabrol film "La Femme Infidele." With a screenplay by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr., this has a very European feel to it, especially its open-ended final image.

Lyne is the director who scared married men straight with "Fatal Attraction." Who can forget wild-eyed Glenn Close insisting she would not -- not -- be ignored and then boiling a bunny to prove her point?

Here, it's the wife who is unfaithful and the only bunny is a costume for a school play. This is a far more complicated triangle since Paul is not crazy, Ed has more of an edge that we suspect, and Connie finds balancing liaisons and car pool a dangerous high-wire act.

Lyne calls the picture "an erotic thriller about the body language of guilt." At a certain point, there's plenty to go around, and it's in the final 30 minutes that the actors really get to shine. Since Connie has no confidante, she must telegraph every emotion -- shock, exhilaration, remorse, confusion, glorious anticipation, outrage, sadness -- on her face and body. The secret nature of everyone's actions mitigates against lengthy, teary discussions, but the movie could stand one between the Sumners.

Gere, the onetime "American Gigolo" who has swept countless actresses off their feet (some literally), must be the everyman. Even in bifocals, he's a little too attractive to be the average guy but he tries to dial back his natural sexy swagger and appeal as Martinez turns his up.

If the affair were the only point of "Unfaithful," it would just be an exercise in titillation. Some of the images, such as a bag of oranges that portentously tumbles over, are a bit obvious but there's more to this story than the affair. That's what makes it film fare for adults in a summer of superheroes casting a web over teens.

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