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Diane Lane has long been in search of the right role to blend her actor’s grit and star radiance. Since her vibrant film debut at twelve, in 1979’s A Little Romance, Lane has mostly been puffing up peacocks, be it Mark Wahlberg in The Perfect Storm or Keanu Reeves in Hardball. Indie flicks such as My New Gun and A Walk on the Moon revealed her range, but the show-stopping role to touch a nerve with audiences has eluded her.

Until now. As Connie Sumner, the wife and mother who shatters her seemingly idyllic life with husband Edward (Richard Gere) in the swank burbs of New York’s Westchester County by fucking her brains out with Paul (Olivier Martinez), a hunky SoHo bookseller, Lane is a force of nature. Her slow-burning, fiercely erotic performance charges the movie, which is a sordid, silky wallow in guilty sex — and I mean that as a compliment. For director Adrian Lyne, working from a script by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr., Unfaithful (woman cheats on husband) is the flip side to his megahit Fatal Attraction (husband cheats on wife). And the damn ruse still works.

If Unfaithful seems less shallow than Lyne’s Indecent Proposal, it’s because the story is loosely based on Claude Chabrol’s memorably wicked La Femme Infidele, in which a husband’s revenge on his wife’s lover revitalizes his marriage. The new ending, though purposefully ambiguous, trades in Chabrol’s subversive wink for a bogus stand on family sanctity. But that’s just the end. Before that, Lane and Martinez turn on enough carnality to singe the screen. And Gere, though still more stud than shlub, locates the emotional reserves in Edward that might chill a marriage. When Edward finally unleashes his pent-up rage, Gere is shockingly good. Unfaithful isn’t anything new — Lyne’s fear of female sexuality is as disquieting as ever — but this seductive tease of a thriller gets the job done. It’s a scorcher.

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