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Movie Reviews

Original Sin  

Antonio Banderas... ...Luis Antonio Vargas
Angelina Jolie... ...Julia Russell
Thomas Jane... ...Walter Downs
Jack Thompson... ...Alan Jordan
Gregory Itzin... ...Colonel Worth
Allison Mackie... ...Augusta Jordan
Joan Pringle... ...Sara
Cordelia Richards... ...Emily Russell

Directed by: Michael Cristofer
Written by: Michael Cristofer, Based on the novel "Waltz Into Darkness" by Cornell Woolrich
Rated PG-13 for strong sexual content and some violence
Running Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

Thou Shalt Not Marry

Based on Cornell Woolrich's marvelously titled book "Waltz Into Darkness," Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/director Michael Cristofer's "Original Sin" is a movie that teeters on the embankment of ludicrousness, which is probably the best place for a movie like this to be. The film is one of those deliriously trashy stories involving sex, betrayal, murder, and contains individuals caught in their own respective webs of corruption. The experience is fun for a while until the realization begins to sink in ... that there just isn't a character for which an audience memeber can cheer. It does what it can for as long as it can, but eventually - perhaps inevitably - it lost my interest.

Luis Vargas (Antonio Banderas) is a handsome and seemingly mild-mannered Cuban businessman. The pragmatic entrepreneur has everything ... except a wife. His mercantile mentality stretches into his personal life, as he figures the best way to marry without the complication of love would be to obtain an American mail-order bride. As the story opens, he is headed to meet the woman who he feels will make his life complete. Her name is Julia Russell (Angelina Jolie) and her face doesn't match the picture sent to Luis. She offers an acceptable reason, and his initial suspicions are dropped.

But the audience senses something Luis strangely does not: that there may be more to Julia than meets his pleased eye. We learn that many of her stories are fabrications, she has odd recurring nightmares, in the corner of her room is a trunk she absolutely refuses to unlatch, and she opts against writing her deeply concerned sister. Perhaps his apparent inability to question is due to the fact that he's smitten with her and wants to give her everything. It looks as though his new wife will beat him to the punch, as she has her own hidden agenda. Upon realization that the love of his life has skipped out with all his money, Luis becomes enraged and embarks on a mission to find and kill her. He is aided by a private investigator (Thomas Jane) hired by Julia's worried sister. Will he actually go through with the murder once he locates her, or will he be seductively drawn into her game of corruption?

Jolie and Banderas have the toughest assignments in a movie of this sort, I think. They have to convey their characters' continuously altering emotions as dictated by the curves in the film's serpentine screenplay. Jolie handles the daunting complexities a little better than Banderas, whose personality changes are at times a bit abrupt. (He goes from an relatively distant businessman to an obsessed husband - "Who was that man? WHO WAS THAT MAN!" - a little too easily.) Given the intricacies of the plot, they do an admirable job of expressing the evolving emotions bred from each one's growing obsession.

I suppose it's a tribute to writer/director Cristofer that the movie stays interesting for as long as it does. He realizes the nature of this kind of storytelling, and doesn't try to make it into anything more than the sum of its engagingly trashy parts. He seems to relish scenes where the camera looks down from the bedroom ceiling as Luis and Julia test the facets of lovemaking positions, or scenes that utilize jump cut editing to give the film a furious, choppy feel.

However, effects of the sort only go so far. Trying to spot the plot twists becomes laborious and the film is ultimately drained of any real impact in the final act. I don't mind movies that lack a sense of grandeur, but my interest really shouldn't go out the same window, regardless of the subject matter.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney

Critically Ill

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