Original Sin (2001)


Based on one of those trashy romantic novels single women read on the train, Original Sin actually has an interesting script and some unique twists and turns, but too much bare flesh. The R-rating is well deserved. Luis Vargas (Antionio Banderas) is a mild-mannered 19th century Cuban coffee mogul. He's a highly successful businessman and has everything a man could want... except a wife. The solution to this problem is therefore solved by the nature of a mail-order bride. He marries a woman young enough to have children without the "complication" of love. His soon-to-be-wife is arriving on a boat from America, but no one disembarking matches the dowdy picture he was sent.


Waiting overnight, the following morning he is approached by an exquisite beauty (Angeline Jolie) who confesses that she sent another woman's picture, because she didn't want a man who only desired her for beauty alone and not the cleverness of her mind. Her lies are forgiven in the light of his own deceptions (he conveniently neglected to mention he's wealthy) and the two are married. Wanting to show his new bride compassion and kindness, Luis makes no advances and allows her access to his bank accounts. After several weeks of married life with this beautiful woman, they become intimate and begin to fully fall in love. Julia is a mystery. She loathes her older sister, who has sent several frantic letters to inquire if she arrived safely. She often smells of cigar smoke. Her beloved little bird unexpectedly dies. She is affectionate, pleasing, and charming... but has many secrets. Luis sees her speaking with an actor at a theatre troupe, but is too much in love to believe anything dishonest of her.


Then an investigator named Walter Downs (Thomas Jane) begins nosing about. He's been sent from America to investigate Julia's mysterious disappearance. Luis is surprised at this development but not overly concerned. He invites the young man back to the house to meet Julia... only to find she's gone. Her clothes have been packed up and sent away, and the only thing left in his bank account is a few dollars. His wife has taken him for a ride, and now Luis wants revenge. Together with Walter, he begins to investigate, and learns Julia is not the woman he thought she was... she's an imposter who may be responsible for murder. Julia in the meantime is playing a dangerous game. She now has a husband on her trail who wants nothing more than to put a bullet in her brain, and is fleeing from someone far more dangerous from her past. When the two lovers meet up again, sparks, tempers, and romance fly as they attempt to unearth the truth, shake off pursuers, and find true love amidst a deadly game of murder, betrayal, corruption, and blackmail.


Most of the critics panned this as rotten to the core, but Original Sin does have several things going for it. The script is believable without becoming overly sensational, and does involve some interesting twists. The foreign setting lends an air of exotic romance, while the mystery unfolds at a reasonable pace with plenty of malevolent little implications along the way. The pairing seems unlikely. Jolie is more of a modern player, but fits into the genre with surprising grace. Her vixen good looks suit the smoldering Julia, while Banderas plays an obsessive, infuriated husband with reasonable believability. The editing on this film is highly unusual. It's not bad, but just different. The musical score is also intriguing, with a distinctly Cuban flavor. With some editing, it would be well worth watching a few times just to enjoy the story as it unravels, but unfortunately I cannot recommend it otherwise. The production crew seemed to enjoy taking every opportunity to exploit Angelina. Not only are her gowns extremely low-cut and immodest, but there are several instances of upper frontal nudity on her, along with prostitutes in a local brothel. Her "partner in crime" sexually harasses her a couple of times by putting his hand up her skirt and forcibly kissing her. It's implied she's raped by angry gamblers (nothing shown). Julia and Luis take a bath together, are shown in bed several times talking (the sheet is low enough to reveal a little too much of Julia) and engage in a graphic and lengthy sex scene. We see Luis' backside several times in one scene as he stands naked in the doorway telling off a man who was trying to woo his wife. He also visits a prostitute after his wife has left him.


An evil man makes various remarks about Julia, and kisses her husband on the lips to infuriate him. There are a few bad words (two abuses of Christ's name, mild profanity) and some violence. Gamblers beat up Luis and throw him down the steps into a bloody heap before turning on his wife. A man is shot and killed. Another deliberately drinks poison, and vomits. Moral issues are also involved. After killing a man, Luis experiences feelings of guilt, but Julia tells him to put it behind him. It's done, and there's no going back. Julia teaches him how to cheat at Poker. The content really is terrible, even on fast-forward, and smuts up an otherwise fascinating movie. Both main characters are severely flawed and yet likable. We empathize with Julia when we know the entire truth and hope somehow she can escape the situation in which she's placed herself. With a little more restraint, Original Sin could have been a wonderfully romantic costume drama. It's more intent on provoking lust in its viewers rather than exploring the subtle nuances of its characters.


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