Her partner in the scene is Antonio Banderas, making this arguably the hottest scene ever filmed between A-list actors (which they both were at the time).
I have some thoughts about the movie as well, but since my comments are so verbose, I hid them under the jump.
Complete spoilers follow:
I think I’m going to surprise you with what I am about to say. I’m the guy who asked why the hell Blake Edwards thought it was a wise idea to remake a Truffaut movie as a Burt Reynolds film (The Man Who Loved Women). You would therefore expect me to hate the entire idea of this lavish Hollywood remake of yet another Truffaut movie (Mississippi Mermaid), but I don’t feel that way. Mississippi Mermaid was not an exceptionally good Truffaut movie. Although the idea had merit, it was filled with inexplicable behavior and illogical plot twists. I think it was a good idea to remake it.
Before you unload on me and my obvious lack of taste, let me set the record straight. I am not telling you that Original Sin is a great movie, and I’m not recommending it. The fact that I don’t object to a remake doesn’t mean I endorse this particular execution of that idea, although I think it is a reasonable screen representation of the kind of plot and atmosphere represented by Cornell Woolrich’s “Waltz into Darkness,” the novel which formed the basis for both Truffaut’s film and this one.
The basic summary: a mail order bride shows up on an island. She’s not at all what the groom expected. He was waiting at the docks for a plain woman, and was confronted with a knock-out. Her story, “I didn’t want you to send for me because I had a pretty face. I sent a picture of my ugly cousin.” He believed it, because he had done something very similar himself. He told her that he was a simple worker when in fact he owned the factory/plantation, because he didn’t want her to come because she had seen a pretty bank account. Believing her, however, was a big mistake. She was a con artist who has conspired with her boyfriend to murder the real mail order bride and clean out the groom.
Frankly, Truffaut’s film had a serious problem with inexplicable character motives. When the con woman cleaned out the rich guy’s bank accounts, there was no motivation for her to do that. She was trading down. What kind of con is that? She had the greatest life imaginable with a rich guy with impeccable manners who looked like a movie star and completely adored her. She would have been far better off telling him the truth and staying with him rather than cleaning out a couple of bank accounts and ending up right back where she was again in a couple of years. The only possible explanation for her actions is that her unseen partner-in-crime had an inexplicably strong hold on her, something that she just couldn’t break. But the Truffaut movie never explained that.
The remake tried and succeeded fairly well in that one aspect. The partners had a bizarre sadistic/masochistic co-dependency relationship that dated back to childhood. That alone could explain how he controlled her, but the screenwriter added a further clarification as well. The con woman WAS going to stay with the rich guy, until he made her write a letter to “her sister” – actually the murdered woman’s sister – which forced her to end the game.
Unfortunately, both versions of the story have a massive logic error. In theory, the con woman and her partner killed the real mail order bride on the ship. They flung her overboard and concocted a scheme to impersonate her. Do you see the big problem with this set-up?
The mail order bride didn’t know she was going to marry a rich man! She thought she was going to the island to marry a mere foreman for love.
So why would anyone decide to bump her off and take her place? To con a poor man? Conning the poor has never been an especially lucrative enterprise.
(Well, to be more precise, conning a single poor person has never been very rewarding. On the other hand, if you choose to do it en masse, as do the TV evangelists, it seems to be pretty fruitful.)
This newer version of the story pretty much follows the Truffaut film for 75 minutes – until the bride is rediscovered by the rich man after her flight, at which point he intends to kill her, but is dissuaded by the story of her life, a tragic tale of woe.
After that point, however, Original Sin becomes a completely different film, filled with staged deaths, cons, counter-cons, unexpected revelations, and about ten completely outrageous, over-the-top plot twists.
Truffaut’s film really focused on obsession, and the plot was kept fairly simple to allow him to focus on the rich man, who loved the con woman even after he knew she was an imposter. The new film is really plot-driven. I don’t think it was handled properly. When a film is based on the plot, and the plot is based on secrets, you have to let it unravel naturally. This film is directed by someone who just can’t keep a secret, and it spoils the fun. When the rich man and the con woman are first living together, he completely ignores some warning signs that she’s lying. She smells of cigars and she tells him she smoked one of his. He catches her with another guy and she explains that she was asking for directions. She loves her morning coffee, even though she had written him that she never drinks anything but tea. C’mon now. There are two problems with this line of presentation:
1. Are we supposed to believe that he is really that obtuse? Being obsessed is one thing, but complete stupidity is quite another.
2. Even though he can’t see the scam, we can. The clues would have been obvious enough, but the film’s framing device shows her telling her story from prison at the beginning of the film. Therefore, when she is revealed to be an imposter, there is no surprise for us. If a film is driven by plot surprises, what is left when the surprises are not surprising?
What makes it worse is that there are so many off-the-wall plot twists. The script piles twist upon twist, but frankly, none of them are really very surprising once you realize that the author is simply going to pull out all of the stops. A film can be fun if it leads us to think one thing, then drops an opposite bombshell on us when we really don’t expect it. A film may even get away with doing this more than once. But once we become aware that the changes of direction are the entire raison d’etre of the movie, we expect everything to be a con, and are therefore subsequently unsurprised to find that things differ from their appearance. We knew it already, because everything in the film is that way. We’ve received a written invitation to our own surprise party, and we can’t even pretend we’re surprised.
David Mamet can get away with that because he is brilliant enough to manage an ambience where the absence of a plot twist is a surprise and is therefore, in itself, a plot twist. Mamet is, however, about the only person in the world with the elan to pull this off.
Having said all that, let me add that Original Sin is not as bad as the critics said (12% at Rotten Tomatoes). It’s not Plan 10 From Outer Space. It’s more like one of those potboiler Pia Zadora movies with Jolie slumming as the Zadora substitute. In fact, I thought the performances were amusing in an overwrought soap opera fashion, and I think that’s the effect they were going for. Lara Croft Jolie did a good impersonation of Kathleen Turner, except with a Madonna-like phony-baloney British accent; Zorro Banderas was convincing as a lovesick rich guy without a clue; and Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) did OK as the hammy actor pretending to be a detective.
I did love the fact that the evil guy gets to run around part of the movie in a Satan costume (the character is an actor) – man, you can’t get any further over the top in the symbolism department!