While watching the over-exaggerated histrionics and sexual biplay of "Original
Sin," all I could think of was how much more I admire Stanley Kubrick's wildly
panned last hurrah, "Eyes Wide Shut." If you recall, "Eyes Wide Shut" was the
infamous film starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman that dealt with jealousy in
a marriage and sexual innuendoes. Except for the de-eroticized orgy, most of
"Eyes Wide Shut" left sexual romps to the imagination. It was all done with
class, style and sophistication and left audiences puzzled and frustrated,
particularly since one was not privy to seeing Kidman and Cruise in their
birthday suits. "Original Sin" delivers on its promise of promiscuity, sex and
tons of nudity - yes, Angelina Jolie is naked throughout this film. And so is
the leading romantic star Antonio Banderas. And it is all about as sexy and
erotic as any episode of "Red Shoe Diaries."
Based on the novel "Waltz into Darkness" by Cornell Woolrich, the film begins
with a Cuban coffee planter, Luis Durand (Antonio Banderas), who is ready to
marry a mail-order bride. His interests are primarily lustful since he does not
believe in love ("Love is for those who believe in it.") Durand meets the bride
named Julia Russell (Angelina Jolie) although she looks nothing like the
photograph she sent him. This should be cause for alarm but Durand is, after
all, rather smitten (hey, it is Lara Croft after all!). They agree that they
can't trust each other since he told her he was a worker at a coffee plant, not
the owner. What is striking about this scene is how lovingly composed it is.
Director Michael Cristofer ("Gia") takes a cue from Martin Scorsese's "The Age
of Innocence" by showing us Durand's subjective glances at the striking figure
of Julia, dissolving from shots of her hair, lips, eyes, hands, etc. After
seeing this sequence, I was convinced that Cristofer was g!
oing to rein us in on one heck o
f a full-blooded, passionate love story. Not so.
What starts as a sumptuous mood piece quickly degenerates into heavy,
over-the-top melodrama. Julia is not what she seems since she takes Durand's
money and splits. Durand is heartbroken, so much that he is ready to kill her
only to then realize he is actually ready to kill for her (?). He hires a
private investigator (Thomas Jane) to find her, though the investigator has
already been looking for her for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who
loves melodramas of this type. Revelations take place as does twists and turns,
all foreseeable if, again, you have not lived in a monastery for the last twenty
years. Oh, yes, but we do see Banderas and Jolie cavorting in the nude, in
high-angle, softly pornographic scenes that only made me yawn. To call this
eroticism is to forget what true eroticism is - consider the lovemaking scene
between Greta Scacchi and Tim Robbins in "The Player," which is as erotic as
they come. Even Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" had a modicum of nud!
ity. The sex scenes in this film
play like a Playfold centerfold with Jolie at its center - it is no different
than any soft-porno film you might catch late at night on HBO.
Perhaps "Original Sin" was meant to be melodramatic (I have not read the book
nor seen Truffaut's original film version) but it is so high-pitched complete
with a grating soundtrack of Spanish songs that it becomes a chore to sit
through. Banderas succeeds in making Durand a torn man and I do enjoy watching
Jolie, a stunning screen presence. They just do not have an iota of chemistry
and since the characters are so one-dimensional, it is hard to care about them.
Thomas Jane's role is crudely overdone and simply too cartoonish. The ending is
such a howler and so nearly parodic that the whole audience erupted in laughter.
"Original Sin" simply needed to be dialed down a bit for its own good.
Copyright © 2001 Jerry Saravia