Original Sin

(2001) * R
116 min. MGM Distribution Company. Director: Michael Cristofer. Cast: Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie, Thomas Jane, Jack Thompson, Pedro Armendariz Jr..

/content/films/4087/1.jpgThough written and directed by a Pulitzer Prize winner, Original Sin is better known as the picture in which a naked Angelina Jolie (by then a certified Oscar winner) and Antonio Banderas do the horizontal mambo. And for good reason—the long-delayed film has little else to hang its hat on, its afterlife assured mostly by that word that gives every home-video marketer a woody: "unrated." Based on the 1947 Cornell Woolrich novel Waltz into Darkness (previously filmed as François Truffaut's Mississippi Mermaid), Original Sin is a little bit exotic period piece, a lot noir, but Cristofer and his cast never quite get it together.

Strangely, Original Sin has in common with the later anti-rom-com (500) Days of Summer the promise that "This is not a love story, but it is story about love." Banderas plays Luis Vargas, owner of a coffee plantation in late nineteenth-century Cuba. Looking to fit the last piece into his orderly life, Vargas arranges for a dowdy American mail-order bride. When Angelina Jolie arrives and announces herself to be the American, Julia Russell, it's a bizarre reversal on the disappointment felt by internet chatters who meet in person: according to Julia, she sent Luis a photo of a less attractive woman to assure herself that her new husband was more than superficial. He, too, has lied, obscuring his wealth for the same reason. "Then we have something in common," says Julia. "Neither one of us can be trusted." Wink wink, nudge nudge. The two marry and, after a bit of teasing, Julia imprints herself around Luis' manhood. But a trip to the theater to see an American touring company performing Faust becomes one in a series of concerning incidents for Luis: his wife is super-hot, but can she be trusted? Of course not, and matters take a turn for the worse with the arrival of private investigator Walter Downs (Thomas Jane).

By transplanting the story from New Orleans to Cuba, Cristofer gives the proceedings a bit of added flavor and, in concert with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain), some visual mood (jazz-based composer Terence Blanchard adds some aural mood). But Cristofer's script proves fatally incapable of smoothing out the whiplash character turns and making sense of the big picture: it's incredible in the worst sense of the word. Banderas' performance is a compromise: to make Original Sin make more sense, the admittedly naive and crotch-led Vargas would have to be more weak-willed and quivering than Banderas (and presumably Cristofer and the studio) is willing to make him, which would also give the character more room to grow from putty in Julia's hands to a man willing to commit serious moral crimes to keep her. Jolie's performance totally lacks in nuance—it's a self-parodic salute to her own lips (after the film-opening mouth closeup, the rest of her bodacious bod almost seems an afterthought) but in no way willing to investigate character conflict; that may be a valid choice, but Julia hardly expresses a hint of concern when she's forced to rethink her plans, which is often. Only Jane is allowed to strike a note of ambiguity—sexual ambiguity that's exploited for maximum squirm but minimum import to character or story. Still, naked movie stars. Am I right?

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 6/7/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

MGM gives Original Sin its Blu-ray debut with a mediocre transfer that's still an improvement over DVD: the image has a tendency to run soft (partly due to the source, methinks), but this also appears to be an old hi-def transfer, and those sensitive to such things will notice the picture is at times flecked with dirt. Generally speaking, the picture remains handsome and film-like, with credible color and contrast and improved detail, but it's not even close to the most sharp and dimensional picture you're going to find on Blu-ray. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is also a bit dated in its construction, but rear channels are engaged from time to time for ambience, and dialogue is clear.

The DVD bonus features return, beginning with commentary by director Michael Cristofer. Cristofer, also an actor, does a decent job of filling out this track with information about the film: he's interesting enough to give this a spin, for those who care to know more about the source material, his approach in adapting it, the location work, and the actors. Also on the disc are the music video "'You Can't Walk Away from Love' by Gloria Estefan" (1:47, SD) and the "Original Theatrical Trailer" (2:09, HD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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