If you had told me that one day I would say that I liked a romantic thriller, I would have told you you were crazy. And yet, here we are.
What makes Unfaithful (2002) so different from the many others of its ilk? For starters, the female lead is older, more mature, more fully aware of everything that she’s doing. She isn’t some naive schoolgirl charmed by a powerful older man and she isn’t some washed up, bored housewife looking to reignite her passion in the arms of a twenty-something. Diane Lane, as Connie, loves her husband and loves her son, and yet is disarmed by the strength of her attraction to Olivier Martinez’s Paul. Her story tells us that we don’t stop being attracted to people because we are married. We don’t stop wishing for more, even if we love what we have. We don’t stop feeling because we’ve ticked off certain boxes on a societal list. We all have the opportunity to act as Connie does. It’s our choices that determine whether we do.
To a certain extent I think we can all identify a bit with Connie. Who hasn’t been around someone for whom there is an intense attraction? A fear that you’ll do something you shouldn’t? A knowledge that you should never, ever be alone with this person? The movie is a study in what happens when we follow our baser instincts and shun doing what we know is right in favor of what we want, right now.
There is a fallout and consequences to be paid, for sure, but Connie is not condemned for her actions. I applaud the movie for not reducing her to the stereotypes so prevalent in romantic/erotic plots. She is not painted as a whore or as mentally unstable or as unaware of how she is hurting everyone around her. She’s simply a woman who made a choice and must deal with the ramifications of that choice for the rest of her life. She is utterly identifiable and that makes this movie – complete with its surprising twists and unexpected ending – such a wonderful addition to an otherwise dismal genre.