Original Sin

Movie Information

Genre: Noir Thriller
Director: Michael Cristofer
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie, Thomas Jane, Jack Thompson
Rated: R

This is either the worst good movie I’ve ever seen or the best bad one. I can’t decide exactly which is the case with this deliriously trashy period melodrama. But make no mistake — good, bad or utterly awful — Original Sin is not only trashy melodrama, it revels in the fact. Writer/director Michael Cristofer’s overheated, overwrought, overproduced thriller has been a source of much speculation for ages, with its release date constantly pushed back amidst rumors of the original sex scenes being too much for the sensibilities of the PG-13 age in which we live … not to mention mutterings that stars Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie were having an equally rooty-tooty offscreen romance. Well, I can’t comment on the latter, but I will note that there are many signs of the movie being tweaked after the fact; for example, two key scenes from the trailer are nowhere in the final film. There’s really only one extended sex scene, but for a current mainstream Hollywood movie, it does push the envelope of what the always-inscrutable MPAA ratings folks consider acceptable for an R rating. Still, that scene is less likely to draw a gasp from the audience than a far more startling moment later in the film between Banderas and Thomas Jane (Under Suspicion). The thing is, the whole film is so infused with the steaminess of its main characters and their perverse relationships (not just Banderas and Jolie, but Jane as well) that it hardly matters whether or not the characters keep their clothes on. And Cristofer keeps the proceedings moving at such a fever pitch that the film keeps toppling over into unintentional comedy. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is so melodramatically bad as to be unbelievable. The story is drawn from the novel Waltz Into Darkness by the famous noir writer, Cornell Woolrich — which is as fine a pedigree as anyone wanting to make a neo-noir movie could ask (even if Cristofer — somewhere along the way — grafted on an incomprehensible happy ending that may or may not be a fantasy). All the mechanics are in place: A plot about a bogus “mail-order” bride who was involved in disposing of the real wife-to-be so she can step in and take her coffee-plantation-owning husband for all he’s worth is certainly a good basis for such a film. (It might help, though, if Cristofer managed to explain how Jolie’s character knows Banderas is worth pursuing, since the plot has it that he’s misrepresented himself as a mere clerk to his pen-pal love in order to prevent exactly the sort of gold digging scheme that’s afoot.) Even after Jolie takes Banderas for all the money in his bank accounts (leaving him $71 — on which, it appears, he can travel all around Cuba and rent a villa or two along the way), is proven to be utterly faithless and is probably a murderess, the man still wants her back. That’s about as noir as you can get. Hell, Banderas is so besotted, he’s ready to overlook that little indiscretion where Jolie dosed him with rat poison and he nearly bought the plantation. This is a film-noir obsessive to cherish! The plot constantly twists and turns, but, unfortunately, it’s not all that hard to be a step ahead of it. In fact, the only real surprise is the way the story just keeps on going. Every time you think the movie’s going to end, it goes somewhere else. The ending defies not only belief, but interpretation: It’s either set in Morocco or — judging by the knee-deep dry-ice mist and all-white clothing — some Hollywoodized vision of heaven! The film is undeniably beautiful to look at, even if Cristofer gets a little too hung up on scenes that open in darkness and are flooded in light with the opening of double doors. He also definitely needed to rethink the use of pointless jump-cuts within takes. The movie’s appeal all depends on whether or not you’re willing to be swept along with the film’s melodramatic trashiness. I have to admit I was never bored, and was always more amused by its insane convolutions and plot holes than annoyed by them, but it’s by no means a good movie in any rational sense. Look at it this way: If nothing else, the release of the film means that you’ll finally stop seeing the previews for it that have been running for at least a year!

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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