Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez in UnfaithfulUNFAITHFUL

Diane Lane has been a terrific performer for close to 25 years without really becoming a star, yet that's destined to change with Unfaithful, the hypnotic new Adrian Lyne thriller that gives Ms. Lane the chance to show, when granted the right material, how incredibly fine she can be.

She plays Connie, a well-to-do homemaker and quasi-socialite who almost literally stumbles into an affair with Paul (Olivier Martinez), a sexy book dealer; while the film shows how their messy, passionate liaison leads to disaster for Connie and her attentive husband (Richard Gere), this domestic drama is nothing compared to the drama that's going on in Diane Lane's face. Anxious, guilt-ridden, and flushed with the knowledge that what she's doing is completely wrong even though it feels so right, Lane's Connie is a triumphant creation, made more marvelous when you realize how little dialogue she and the film's other characters have to work with. (The spare, lucid script by Alvin Sargent and William Broyles Jr. digs deeper into the hidden ugliness behind a "happy" marriage than the overrated In the Bedroom did.)

Adrian Lyne, unsurprisingly, gives the proceedings style to burn, though here and there his direction teeters on the overbearing - Connie and Paul meet in a windstorm straight out of Twister (possibly this is to symbolize the hugeness of their meeting, but it still comes off as Way Too Much ) - and despite its two-hour running length, a few of Unfaithful's subplots feel truncated, especially when a big deal is made out of a character working for Planned Parenthood (and when that figure is played by the superb character actress Margaret Colin) and she's never heard from again. Yet Unfaithful is a case study in the good of a film far outweighing the mediocre. Lyne's staging of the mounting fear and uncertainty that results from the affair is electrifying, as is Richard Gere's performance as Lane's put-upon spouse; the scene in which Gere discovers his wife's infidelity might be the strongest bit of acting in his career. Unfaithful holds you in its spell of deceit and anguish, yet never fails to do it entertainingly, and pulls off an emotionally overwhelming, open-ended finale that I thought Hollywood had lost the nerve for. For the escalating tension and the work of Lane and Gere, the superb Unfaithful would be the most powerful film in current release if not for ...


Gael Garcia Bernal and Maribel Verdu in Y tu mama tambienY TU MAMA TAMBIEN

Mexican writer-director Alfonso Cuaron's astounding coming-of-age road movie features as straightforward a plotline as you could ask for. Two teenage best friends, the affluent Tenoch (Diego Luna) and the working-class Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal), try to pull of the coup de grace of masturbatory fantasies by taking Luisa (Maribel Verdu), a married woman almost twice their age, with them on a road trip to a secluded, albeit imaginary, beach in the hopes of scoring with her. Astonishingly, they succeed, though not for the reasons they might have hoped. Even more astonishingly, Cuaron takes what, at best, should have come off as a subtitled Stand by Me-meets-Porky's and turns it into the most haunting and beautiful meditation on life and young love seen in years. This is partly because the Y tu mama tambien performances ring completely true - the friendship between Luna and Bernal, and their feelings of hurt, disillusionment, and adolescent horniness are palpable, and Maribel Verdu gives a devastating portrayal of a women fighting too hard against despair - but mostly because Cuaron absolutely refuses to sentimentalize his characters and their situation; you're free to laugh or cry at their plight, and both responses feel deserved.

Throughout the film, Cuaron employs the device of cutting off the soundtrack and, as in those foreign hits Amelie and Run Lola Run, describing what will happen to minor characters (and even a family of wild pigs) years down the road; Cuaron dramatizes how every occurrence in life is a piece of a bigger picture, which we could all see with proper distance and awareness. The boys, on their singular mission to get laid, aren't witness to their world in the way we in the audience are. Had they ventured to the kitchen of one of the bars they enter, they'd see, as we do, an elderly woman dancing with joy, and had they turned their heads while driving, they'd notice the - justified? - harassment of several peasants by the police. Y tu mama tambien is filled with what appear to be throwaway moments like this that create an extraordinary collage of Mexican life, and life in general; the boys might be too hormone-driven to see clearly, but by the movie's end they're both sadder and definitely more aware of the endless complexity of human dynamics, just as we in the audience are. Erotic, funny, heartbreaking, and almost unbearably profound, Y tu mama tambien is, thus far, the film of the year.


Stephen Dorff and Brad Renfro in Deuces WildDEUCES WILD

In the first two seasons of The Sopranos, Michael Imperioli's character Christopher tried in vain to write a screenplay about the loves, loyalties, and violence inherent in the life of a gangster. Had Christopher been a '50s-era Brooklynite greaser instead of a 21st Century Jersey boy, the result might look a lot like Deuces Wild, which features an amazingly derivative and retrograde script gussied up with show-offy, "cutting edge" visual design by director Scott Kalvert. The movie, about a group of thugs attempting to keep the influx of drugs off their turf, is shallow, uninspired, and faintly ridiculous, but it's never dull, mostly for reasons the filmmakers probably didn't intend.

First off, there's that Sopranos connection, made more manifest by the appearances of Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore as a phlegmatic priest and Drea de Matteo, who plays Christopher's lover on The Sopranos, as a greaser's girlfriend. Then there's the casting of Fairuza Balk as a romantic lead, and as anyone who loves her ferocious wickedness can attest, you might never warm to her, but you won't be able to take your eyes off her. And finally, Deuces Wild provides major roles for Stephen Dorff, Brad Renfro, and Balthazar Getty, all three of whom, in the early- to mid-'90s, were poised to be Hollywood's Next Big Thing, but whose careers have stalled to the point that they're now lucky to star in this Lords of the Flatbush knock-off. (My guess for their failure to strike it big in Hollywood? Lack of distinct screen personality.) All three try their damnedest to invest their clichéd characters with life, but they remain banal caricatures; James Franco shows up in a minor role (Deuces Wild was filmed before Spider-Man and Franco's award-winning performance in the James Dean bio-pic), and without benefit of a close-up or much screen time, displays more magnetism that Dorff, Renfro, and Getty combined. Cruel as it is to say, the thought of how galling Franco's success must be to this trio is perhaps the only really enjoyable thing about Deuces Wild.

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