Cliches that work

Rating: NNNNNUNFAITHFUL directed by Adrian Lyne, written by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr., produced by Lyne and G. Mac.

Rating: NNNNN

UNFAITHFUL directed by Adrian Lyne, written by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr., produced by Lyne and G. Mac Brown, with Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Olivier Martinez and Erik Per Sullivan. 110 minutes. A Fox 2000 Pictures and Regency Enterprises production. A 20th Century Fox release. 0pens Friday (May 10). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 90. Rating: NNNN

why does the trailer for un-faithful make the movie look like a second-rate thriller? This is a problem for 20th-Century Fox, which is obviously stumped about how to market a compelling and erotic drama that unfolds from a woman’s point of view.All you can hope is that audiences, overdosed on Spider-Man mania, will take the time to discover this superior entertainment from, surprisingly, the director of Fatal Attraction, 91/2 Weeks and Indecent Proposal.

Diane Lane stars as a happily married woman living with her successful husband (Richard Gere) and son (Erik Per Sullivan) in one of New York City’s affluent suburbs. During a visit to Manhattan, she literally falls into the arms of Parisian bookseller Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez), who’s subletting an apartment in Soho. Connie’s ordered existence turns chaotic when she succumbs to her attraction and starts a torrid affair with Paul that her husband, Edward, eventually learns about.

Lyne is cinema’s prize hog he loves to roll around in the sexual muck. He’s energized by the way the sexual act can become a power struggle, turning lovers into enemies and combatants.

His attempts to tease out his theme are sometimes ludicrous. Who can forget the silly, art-directed-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life food-and-fucking scene in the kitchen in 91/2 Weeks? Viewers who tried imitating art at home only ended up sticky, with a floor in desperate need of mopping. But while it was over the top, it sure as hell hit a nerve.

When he’s off, Lyne is embarrassing, but when he’s on, he’s frighteningly acute, and there’s no director who better understands the nuances of sex.

Unfaithful’s cliches — bored, middle-aged housewife, young French lover, bespectacled, cuckolded husband, steamy sex in washroom stalls, violent confrontations — are embraced and pumped up like a king-size air mattress. But the whole thing works because Lyne commits wholeheartedly to making the most intense and beautiful adulterous fantasy he can, and in the process he gets a career-best performance from the until-now underachieving Diane Lane.

Lyne and Gere both step back to give Lane centre stage. It’s her movie, and she’s amazing, first in a sexual fever, then tormented by anxiety. While Gere gives a great performance, he’s really playing the girl part — reacting to her actions. That is, until he takes some unwarranted action of his own.

Lane, sitting on a commuter train on her way home after her first sexual encounter with Paul, does some of the best acting you’ll ever see, giggling with embarrassment, crying with remorse, looking both terrified and shocked, delighted and still turned on.

With Edward’s violent reaction to his wife’s affair, Unfaithful switches gears — paralleling In The Bedroom — to reveal the heart, soul and bowels of a marriage, how two people who love each other cope with betrayal while remaining true to the ideals of their union.

The studio tried to impose its own ending on Unfaithful, but Lyne hated it, complained publicly about it and finally carried the day. It was a close call. The studio wanted a neat and tidy solution, and Unfaithful is all about real human

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