Finally got around to seeing Unfaithful
SPOILERS this afternoon. I’m caught between, and sympathetic to, both Joker’s negative view of the film and billy’s effusive view of the film. I agree with joker that the entire thing is pretty silly and cliched. Lyne barely has a subtle film making bone in his body, and that he is also, despite the frequent sexual provocations in his films, a pretty conventional moralist (even if I don’t exactly agree with the idea that the film equates infidelity with murder, or more properly, manslaughter) to boot. I side with billy in my admiration of the acting, particularly Gere and Diane Lane (even if I do agree with joker’s comment that the first sex scene looks like it was done on a 25-cent, vibrating bed), whose generally sensitive and emotionally acute portrayals, of what pretty much amounts to stock characters, elevate the movie into the first “good” Adrian Lyne film that I have seen.
Lyne brings a certain level of professionalism and functionality to his direction. Everything is polished to a high, glossy sheen, and I think he is particularly adept at conveying the sensuality of a touch or gaze, especially in the beginning of the film, as the adulterous affair commences. I’’m thinking of the few insert, close-ups of Martinez touching Lane’s knee or shoulder. However, to say that Lyne’s visual style lacks subtly is putting it mildly; he sticks to a version of the modern variant of classical continuity (which David Bordwell terms Intensified Continuity; anybody interested in this concept can read the article “Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary American Film,” in Film Quarterly
Vol. 55, no 3), which is not a bad thing, but beyond those basics and a few subjective POV shots, Lyne’s range as a director seems limited (with a few exception, see below). His shot repertoire is pretty much a series of medium one or two shots, close-ups, and an occasional long shot (though Lyne seems to have a tendency to cut or zoom in from a long shot set-up), and he keeps everyone pretty much at center frame, near the camera and in relatively shallow focus; there were no interesting usages of depth or composition, at least nothing that really sticks out in my memory. And when Lyne does go in for an effect, it is invariably overwrought (it’s like Sirk without the formal precision), hitting the audience over the head like a sledgehammer. From the opening credits, shots of a poshly, idyllic suburban existence, made slightly ominous by their emptiness/isolation and the rising notes of the portentous music score, then a fade to black, credit, back to another shot, fade to black, credit (I’m not sure if the shot of the bicycle falling over was supposed to be symbolic or not); the windstorm that literally blows the illicit lovers together (given all the talk of randomness and chance, are these the winds of fate?), the initial sex scene, I know that Lane’s character is feeling a mixture of desire and fear, but she acts like she is uber-repressed, like she has been in a nunnery or something all her life (though to be fair, this scene is intercut with a scene of Lane alone on the subway; Lyne isolates her in a medium one-shot, or medium close-up and we see Lane brilliantly ping-pong from despair to desire, from the verge of crying to a smile) the whole snow globe thing, which gets progressively more sappy as the film goes on; the parallel windstorm when Gere dumps Martinez’s body into the dump; that she meets her friend who advised her against an “affair,” at the exact same moment that she learns that her husband knows all about her and Martinez; the silhouetted shot/reverse shot for the confrontation between Lane and Gere in their character’s bedroom; to the final, contrived shot, geesh, people would think that the ending shot of Cast Away
is subtly rendered in comparison to the final two shots of the movie (why Lyne cut’s farther back is beyond me), with the empty road directly ahead of them, stretching into the inky, black darkness, and the bright green neon POLICE sign to their right. Gee, by that point in the movie, I really needed to be reminded of their uncertain future.
What is particularly vexing about Lyne’s directorial choices is that, for the first half of the film, he is capable of some subtle, POV shots, mostly from Gere’s perspective as his suspicions increase (an example, would be his quick gaze downward to see the two sexy pairs of his wife’s shoes that she is going to wear); partly this is a testament to Gere’s subtle and restrained acting in these scenes, as flickers of doubt and concern cross his face. Lyne also manages to insert other bits of business, occasional scenes that enliven the picture: the few scenes of family bliss in the beginning, Gere’s throwaway line about the stock that Connie told him not to buy (which, like the POV shot from Martinez’s perspective, of the butcher knife on the table counter, was a bit of misdirection, red herrings that amounted to nothing), how when Martinez is trying to seduce Connie, the sensual music that he chose to play and dance to, starts skipping (I really liked that music, if I ever try to seduce a woman, I think I’ll try to get my hands on a copy), to the conversation at the cafe, when Connie is away, about how the one woman doesn’t like to be introduced as “Sandy from Planned Parenthood.” (I think her name was Sandy). Another would be the scene where Connie tries on some sexy new underwear, and then strips off the bra after she has put on her dress. These little details, which are pretty much confined to the pre-murder part of the story, made the movie much better, and I think Lyne’s shifting from this kind of throwaway detail to overwrought symbolizing in the post-murder sequences, was largely responsible for my growing restlessness once Martinez was dispatched.
As to whether the film equates infidelity with murder, well I can’t quite agree with that, even though the film does draw direct parallels (the before mentioned wind storm, that both acts are the result of rash, impetuous thinking), both after a bout of sex, and after the murder, Lane and Gere retreat to a bathroom or sink to scrub themselves and their clothes, to cleanse themselves of the taint of Martinez’s character (semen in her instance, blood in his). Actually, the film makes Gere’s homicide rather justifiable, which to me made it seem like Lane’s transgression was worse
than Gere’s in the filmmaker's eyes. While Lyne may think that Lane is a horrible, horrible woman, and btw, I do recognize that infidelity is a bad, destructive thing (in most cases), personally I thought that Lane’s biggest transgression was having sex in the middle of Jacques Tati film festival. While the whole, alienation and ennui of a suburban housewife driving said woman into a passionate, if not dangerous affair, with another man (with the added wrinkle this time that instead of a loveless marriage to a bourgeois sad sack, she is in a loving marriage to a bourgeois sad sack) is pretty cliché, at least they don’t really try to explain her behavior, or motivate it via backstory. It’s enough that I actually sat there and reflected upon what Lane actually did with her days any ways, her husband worked, provided every convenience, her kid was at school, she had no job, and a house keeper, I could see how a little danger, a little bit of randomness and a break from routine would appeal to her (which is again, something that you usually see in these stories any ways), but the film also introduced the fact that while Connie’s marriage was not sex and loveless, that maybe Gere was somewhat inadequate; their is a kinky, sadomasochistic bent to the affair, especially in the first and last sex scene, where Martinez prompts Lane to hit him which just turns her on, to the scene where Martinez takes her quasi-violently from behind in the hallway, after she learns of his other women. Danger plus SM, now that was an interesting combination, even though it never really came to a head.
Again, I seem to be writing an extremely long review of a film that I didn’t particularly like, but that’s not true. I thought that the performance of the three leads (and even the kid and some of the peripheral players, though not Chad Lowe, I thought he was going to cry again, like at the Oscars, when Gere fired him in a bit of misplaced rage) was excellent. I’ve talked to a great extent about Gere and Lane’s performances, but Martinez should also get some kudos. He takes a stock character and injects him with some likability and charm, he wasn’t a total sleaze, just someone who was too selfish to really reflect on the consequences of his actions (until maybe his final scenes with Gere, he did seem to convey some regret). I could go on about Gere and Lane, who I never realized was that hot until this movie, but I want people to actually read this review, so I’ll tie it up, with a blog convention grade of B- (short and sweet).
Though watching this film did make me want to see the original Chabrol film. I couldn't find it at my local video store. Is it available in the US?