Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Those Middle Commandments

Films: Unfaithful
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There’s something about Diane Lane that bothers me. It’s not that I think she’s a bad actress, because she certainly isn’t. There’s something about her that comes across as artificial to me, though, something plastic. She looks to me like what affluent white women think of when they think of an attractive woman, or the woman they wish to be. I have no explanation for this feeling other than that it’s one I can’t shake. This is relevant because Diane Lane is literally the only reason I sat through Unfaithful. If you think that doesn’t bode well for what’s to follow, you’re probably right.

Connie Sumner (Diane Lane) and her husband Edward (Richard Gere) live a life of the sort that movie producers seem to think is middle class but is actually clearly upper class. He runs a company of some sort and she spends her time fundraising for various charities, they have a massive house in the country, etc. Anyway, the marriage is certainly a loving one, but isn’t very physical, although the presence of their son Charlie (Erik Per Sullivan) would seem to indicate that they’ve had sex at least once.

Anyway, one day during one of her fundraising jaunts, Connie is caught in a windstorm of biblical proportions. We know it’s crazy windy because there is shit flying around everywhere. It’s like a pre-tornado is whipping through somewhere that just finished a ticker-tape parade. The wind knocks Connie directly into the path of Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), who is young and French and also a book dealer, which makes him the epitome of sexy to a bored, rich housewife. He tends to her scraped knees and gives her a book of Persian poetry, surreptitiously slipping his card inside the pages. Later, when she opens the book, his card falls out.

Soon enough Connie goes to thank him for the help and he makes an immediate play for her. She leaves, but “forgets her coat” and before all clothing can be removed, the two are making the beast with two backs. Connie keeps all of this from her husband, of course, but her affair with Paul becomes a regular thing. She keeps finding excuses to head into New York around lunch time and having a little afternoon delight with her young French stud.

Of course, Edward isn’t a complete idiot and he starts finding holes in Connie’s stories. Eventually, he hires a private detective (Dominic Chianese) to find out exactly what Connie is doing with her days. And, naturally enough, the detective finds out that it’s not so much a “what” as a “who.” Connie, sensing the end is near, goes to see Paul to end the affair and finds him with another woman. Angered, she breaks off the affair, although they do have one last fling in the stairwell. She leaves and Edward shows up, confronting Paul. He’s upset but holding things together until he spots a snow globe that he gave Connie. He loses his shit and uses it to bash Paul’s head in. And suddenly, it’s not a movie about an affair, but a movie about a murder. I know that’s kind of spoilery, but this happens with a good hour left.

So I appreciate that this is a movie that takes a real twist at the midpoint, and it’s a twist that I actually like quite a bit. The issue is that I like the twist a lot more than I like the rest of the movie. I honestly don’t give a shit about any of these people. There’s a little bit of sympathy for Edward, since he seems like a nice enough guy if a bit of a stick in the mud, but everyone else is either pretty much self-absorbed or a cliché.

Let’s take Paul for a second. This guy couldn’t be more of an approaching-middle-aged woman’s idea of a perfect sex partner if he bled Chablis (which he doesn’t, incidentally). He’s one of those impossibly perfect movie romance guys who has walked straight out of the pages of a Harlequin romance. And even with that, he’s completely douchey.

It doesn’t say a great deal for the film that I thought things took a significant turn for the better when veteran that-guy Zeljko Ivanek shows up as one of the cops investigating the sudden disappearance of Paul Martel and then the discovery of his body. He was my favorite thing in the movie. Honestly, since I like Zeljko Ivanek, that doesn’t say a lot, but it’s a pretty small part.

The biggest issue I have with Unfaithful is that it’s so over produced and directed. This is a movie where the world seems to mimic the inner thoughts and mental states of the relevant characters. In addition to the windstorm at the start of the movie, we get massive rainstorms when one character or another is upset. When Edward drags Paul’s body out of the apartment building, it’s pouring, and also the middle of the day so people are watching him struggle with what looks exactly like a body wrapped up in a rug. When he goes to dump Paul’s body at the dump, the wind has picked up and paper is flying everywhere again.

Similarly, this is a film that assumes that the audience needs to have things hammered home over and over again. Connie and Edward are almost bad-comedy-movie ridiculous at hiding their own guilt. When the cops do show up and question them, only because their phone number was found in Paul’s apartment, they act so guiltily that I can’t understand why they weren't both in cuffs. Connie even lies about how she knew Paul when the story of their meeting (“Oh, we literally bumped into each other during a windstorm and he helped me take care of an injury”) is completely innocent, and would explain him having her phone number. Any cop good enough to reach the rank of detective would be able to tell she was lying because she does it so badly.

It should be obvious by this point that I didn’t think much of Unfaithful. I’ll admit that it’s a well-made movie; it’s just not one I like very much.

Why to watch Unfaithful: Plenty sexy and a good hard twist in the middle.
Why not to watch: A lot of it seems forced.


  1. Yeah, I found this movie to be god-awful, and for many of the reasons you give in your review. Diane Lane is amazingly sexy in it; I don't have the same problem with her that you do. For me, the absolute worst moment was when Edward killed Paul: the head-bashing technique that Edward used seemed almost childish to me. True, the killing marked a welcome turning point in the story, but the act itself took me out of the movie.

  2. By the way, "Martel" is a French variant of "marteau," i.e., "hammer." Move along, Mr. Freud; nothing to see here.

    1. Knowing that, I'm a little surprised they didn't name him Dick or Peter.

      I didn't go into detail on the head bash, but I agree. It was a little temper tantrum-y.