Adrian Lyne, master of the reckless-sex film - "Flashdance," "9-1/2 Weeks," "Fatal Attraction," "Indecent Proposal," "Lolita" - has reworked Claude Chabrol's 1969 classic "La Femme Infidèle" into a contemporary New York story. He gives us an upscale Westchester housewife, Connie Sumner (Diane Lane), married to successful businessman Edward Sumner (Richard Gere), with a young child and a million-dollar home, who on a windy New York day finds herself tempted into an intense affair with a young Frenchman, Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), who lives in Soho and buys and sells books out of his apartment.
He is gorgeous, with his long hair, his constant three-day beard and soft-spoken accent, and he is as sexy a seducer as the movies have recently seen, though his idea of a knockout line would probably play better with a high school sophomore: "Be happy for this moment, for this moment is your life." But he knows what he's doing. He teases Connie until she comes back and demands sex, great sex, from him. Which they have, on the bed, in a movie theatre, in a hallway, in a ladies' room - nonstop, wild, and ultimately frightening as Connie begins to see the toll her affair is taking on her marriage and her 9-year-old son. This is classic Lyne territory, and his sensuous shots and lighting and editing bring us so close we can feel the heat Paul and Connie generate.
Edward knows something is going on, though not exactly what, and he hires a detective to follow her. Gere's character is lovely and devoted, but he is not stupid nor blind. When the detective brings him evidence of the affair he goes to visit Paul, not knowing exactly why or what he will do when he meets him. The rest of the film deals with the consequences of that visit.
Lyne's film provides an interesting contrast to Chabrol's; in "La Femme Infidèle" Chabrol's characteristic coolness is almost icy. He keeps us at an emotional distance from the wife, her lover, and her husband. Everything is recorded, every act by all three protagonists, but we are not enticed into the heat of the affair or its consequences.
Where Chabrol is clinical Lyne is extravagant, and ultimately that wildness, that love of the intense, weakens "Unfaithful" because the story itself, which Lyne follows religiously, is not cathartic. There is no pat 'solution' to the situation postulated in the film. There are two survivors, and, perhaps, life will go on.
The performances are expert, and in Lane's case extraordinary. She is able to hold and give us every conflicting thought, fear, lust, and excitement she feels, as she feels them. She can laugh and cry simultaneously over what we also would laugh and cry about; she includes us in every moment of her life. As good as she is, she must surmount a script, by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles, Jr., that is more sketched in than fleshed out, a script that is both predictable and riddled with clichés. What could have been a masterpiece, had the writers cared to give us richer characters, turns out to be just another Adrian Lyne tour de force. Not bad, just not good enough.