When marital infidelity makes its way to the big screen, it's usually about the husband getting a little something extra on the side. But in spite of being a movie, Unfaithful takes its cue from the world of country music and depicts the wife as the home-wreckin' jezebel who done break a man's heart somethin' fierce. Diane Lane is the adulterer in question, a suburban housewife whose lustful affair causes all sorts of trouble for her and her husband, played by Richard Gere.
Unfaithful is sexy as hell. Or, more specifically and correctly, Diane Lane is sexy as hell. As cheating wife Connie Sumner, she likes it hard, she likes it rough, and she likes it often from her foreign boy-toy Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez). Despite being in her mid-thirties, which is virtually over the hill by Hollywood standards, the actress is still smokin'. There's also an underlying eroticism built into her role of an insatiable soccer mom who needs it badly--we're talking as badly as Nicole Kidman needed it in The Others, with the added bonus that Lane isn't afraid to get raw in front of the camera.
Connie, her husband Edward, and her lover Martel all have their human flaws, but none of them are depicted in a villainous or one-sided light. A more typical film might have made Edward out to be a hateful man whose abusive behavior encouraged the affair, or shown Martel as an arrogant playboy who took joy in ruining a marriage. But Unfaithful avoids such extreme characterizations, instead portraying real people with real problems. This approach brings a universal relevance to these characters and adds credibility to the story. Edward's reaction to the affair is also a pleasant surprise: he places blame and hatred firmly on his wife, not the other man.
What does not work, however, is Unfaithful's attempt to go beyond the focused boundaries of marital infidelity and mix in some standard Hollywood thrills--namely, murder. Once homicide enters the picture, the film becomes less about plausible marital problems and more about beating the law. The completely unnecessary twist dilutes the story and trades a solid character drama for cheap sensationalism. Believability is further shot when the police are unable to find the killer, even though they have all the obvious clues right in front of them.
Another shortcoming that could have been easily avoided is the fact that Connie and Edward's son is Dewey from television's Malcolm in the Middle. This kid is just as strange here as he is on the amusing, dysfunctional sitcom. It can be an odd distraction for those familiar with him, although viewers who aren't probably won't care one way or the other. Still, would you take a serious drama and randomly insert Mini-Me in his Dr. Evil outfit even if some of your audience wouldn't recognize him?
Unfaithful is misguided in its apparent need to include a half-assed murder mystery for the sake of intrigue (as if Lane's self-gratifying subterfuge wasn't intriguing enough). If I wanted to see a generic take on love leading to bloodshed, I would have watched one of the ten million similarly plotted movies on a cable channel aimed at women. But backing out this cliche and disappointing element, this film is a coherent and realistic examination of personal problems that boasts a hot, sexy performance from Diane Lane.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)