Original Sin: Unrated Version (2001) Movie Review

When it comes to “Original Sin”, it’s best not to believe the (negative) hype. The film is not the dud that critics seem to think it is, and despite the generous amount of skin flashed by the film’s 3 main characters and the oh-so B-movie-ish title, “Original Sin” is more of a tortured love story than it is an erotic thriller. When given a chance, the film is surprisingly very effective, not to mention sexy as hell.

The film’s sexual heat arrives just about the same time as Angelina Jolie, who plays a conwoman targeting Antonio Banderas’ Luis Vargas, a successful Cuban businessman. Arriving in Cuba as the mail-order bridesmaid of Luis and calling herself Julia Russell, the conwoman quickly beguiles Luis with her beauty and lack of inhibitions. But when the family of the real Julia Russell starts inquiring about their missing kin, Luis discovers that (the fake) Julia has disappeared, but not before cleaning out his bank account.

With Julia’s arrival in Cuba, the marriage, and the revelation of her true identity taking place within 35 minutes, the rest of the film spends its time addressing the movie’s real issues. That is, is Luis’ determined pursuit of Julia just for revenge, or is he really in love with her? As we later learn, it’s the latter (somewhat). Luis has not only fallen for her, but he confesses that he’s incapable of living without her. Even after discovering her true nature, her swindler past, and the fact that she has a male accomplice that has already committed one murder (re: the real Julia Russell), Luis remains dedicated not so much to trying to change her, but just to be with her.

Written and directed by Michael Cristofer (“Gia”) from an original novel by Cornell Woolrich, “Original Sin” is not the cleverest film to ever be put to celluloid. Actually I easily guessed its many plot twists, double-crosses, and the “true nature” of its other main character played by Thomas Jane. The movie isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is, and some twists were created on the basis of contrivances. At one point, the swindlers make it appear as if Luis has murdered someone. But Cristofer had dropped so many hints beforehand that when the supposedly murdered person came back to life, there is no surprise.

Like Julia, the real name of Thomas Jane’s character isn’t Walter Downs, and he’s not a private investigator as he claims. Playing a stage actor who is also a conman, Jane’s Walter Downs is so ridiculously fake in the beginning that I’m not exactly sure if Jane is playing the character as stage actor-playing-a-role, or if it’s the result of Jane being unsure of his character. It didn’t seem possible that Jane would play his conman character as so cartoonish, is it? Regardless, I kept waiting for Walter Downs to twirl his so-fake-it’s-obvious mustache like villains do in those old cartoons just before strapping the heroine to the railroad tracks.

Not surprisingly, much of the movie’s ads focused on the sexuality between lead Angelina Jolie (“Tombraider”) and her two male co-stars. Sold as an “erotic thriller”, the movie is not exactly brimming with sex. For those wondering, there is indeed a lot of skin in “Original Sin”, but beyond one sex scene between Jolie and Banderas early on, the rest of the film’s real sexuality comes in the smoldering looks Jolie gives her male co-stars and vice versa. (Does it even need to be said? The camera loves this woman.) Julia’s relationship with Walter is complex and a matter of domination rather than anything else, so when Luis expresses his love for her, Julia is unable to comprehend it, much less accept it as truth.

Julia and Walter’s encounters are immensely aided by Thomas Jane’s ability to turn up the intensity whenever he needs it. This, of course, leads me to think that Jane’s playing of fake P.I. Walter Downs is Jane, the actor, assuming that his movie character, also an actor, is “badly” playing a role because he (the movie character) doesn’t know he’s being “bad.” Or something like that. As the lovestruck fool, Antonio Banderas (“Femme Fatale”) provides a nice counterbalance to Julia’s recklessness and lack of inhibitions. The more she reveals herself to be classless, selfish, and without conscience, the more he’s drawn to her, like moth to flames.

Don’t believe the bad press “Original Sin” got when it first appeared in theaters. It’s a better movie than people give it credit for. The lush 19th century Cuban environment is also spectacular, and cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (“8 Mile”) is outstanding as usual. Although it has the vibe of countless erotic thrillers that have graced late-night cable TV, “Original Sin” manages to rise above its brethrens with high production values, a terrific leading lady, and two good male co-stars.

But have no doubt, the film belongs to Angelina Jolie, from beginning to end and everywhere else in-between.

Michael Cristofer (director) / Michael Cristofer (screenplay), Cornell Woolrich (novel)
CAST: Antonio Banderas …. Luis Antonio Vargas
Angelina Jolie …. Julia Russell
Thomas Jane …. Walter Downs
Jack Thompson …. Alan Jordan
Gregory Itzin …. Colonel Worth

Buy Original Sin: Unrated Version on DVD