Adrian Lyne’s “Unfaithful” makes no excuses for guilt-ridden infidelity or passionate crimes. Instead, the film presents these moral failings as a natural human tendency and a common knee-jerk reaction to modern life.
Diane Lane plays Connie Sumner, “Unfaithful”‘s victim of circumstance who is swept into a beautiful but morally strained affair with the very French primal seducer Paul Martel, played by Olivier Martinez. Mentally, Connie leaves behind her doting husband Edward (Richard Gere) and her dependent son Charlie (“Malcolm in the Middle”‘s Erik Per Sullivan), then returning to guilty evenings at home in her privileged, domestically guided existence. She innocently leads a double life, enjoying the eyes of a new, younger, more sexually voracious lover while never loving her husband any less. Of course, Edward’s suspicions lead him to the truth, and, in an aggravatingly tense scene, he commits a crime of greater weight than his spouse. With their “mistakes” in the air, the couple find themselves at a crossroads with only each other for guidance.
Lyne’s exhausting sensuality features trademark fog, natural light and intense, almost hyperreal sexual encounters, but the guilt-saturated adultery scenes are glorified. Connie’s stomach subtly but intensely quivers in her first encounter, expressing both excitement and intimidation. She is as much a victim as an active participant, which creates a surreal relationship of cat and mouse. Never satisfied with Paul, Connie wants to break away as much as she obsesses over him.
Lyne beautifully paces and balances the affair’s delicate, then abrupt demise. The hard-working, tactful Edward seems impervious to guilt as he acts from instinctive emotion and bluntly takes out his nemesis. Since Connie had already ended the affair, the viewer is suspended in both shock and sympathetic disbelief. Paul’s seductive amoral ethos of ‘no mistakes, just passion and action,’ justify his demise.
Beautiful people, beautiful lives and intense, surreal passion make “Unfaithful” typical tabloid fare, though the suburbs and housewife chores subtract a degree of separation from most exotic love tales. Instead, this is the perfect modern life, full of unyielding love and constant pleasantries. The means for getting these pleasures, however, spits in the face of common decency and leaves us happy with the boring, stable lives of our own.