hen 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
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 screen 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
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.