Alfred Hitchcock would have loved to have made Original Sin, though I’m sure it would have come out a completely different movie. One innocent man, wealthy, alone but not lonely, is drawn into layer upon layer of deceit involving a woman he learns to trust but doesn’t truly know. As it is, sans Hitchcock, Michæl Cristofer’s “Original Sin” is still a masterpiece. Adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich, Original Sin stays true to its roots, relying on strong writing and dialogue to move both plot and character forward. Set in turn of the century Cuba, the sets and costuming both believably depict the island’s culture and add to an already thick layer of atmosphere. The visuals are unique and familiar, shuffling back and forth between the extravagant and the intimate. While often abruptly transitioned and sometimes too indulgent to Cristofer’s style, the imagery works better this way than if it had been restrained in any manner. The mood and tone are consistently good, and this can mainly be attributed to an apparent and therefore invisible lack of self-consciousness in Cristofer’s visuals and in the performances of Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie.
Banderas delivers a solid and flawless performance of a type of character audiences so rarely get to see, a man who is ordinary and comes with the associated flaws of being so. Jolie plays perhaps her best and most dynamic role yet, one eminently more deserving of an Oscar than her turn in Girl, Interrupted, though if the film doesn’t draw enough money it will in all likelihood be shunned by the Academy. The supporting roles are also very solid, the most notable being the excellent Jack Thompson’s double-sided private eye.
The biggest complaint one might have outside of preference in style is on the film’s focus on sex and the balance of implicit versus explicit imagery. Only once, however, does the film truly overindulge on the actors’ bodies. The scene is a necessary and very well filmed one and as a love scene written a certain way is sometimes vital to a great piece of literature, this scene filmed in the way it is is vital to the film as a whole and, much more importantly, is absolutely crucial to the believability and sensibility of the two main characters’ emotional developments later on. In addition, it should be noted that outside the two or three scenes in which Jolie is necessarily naked, usually with Banderas being so as well, most of Jolie’s costuming throughout the film makes less of her body, rather than constantly showing it off.
What Original Sin does best is to mix its strong aspects together very fluently. The excellent writing, the strong performances, and the unique visual tone all come together to create something altogether very different from just about anything else. Although the film does contain its share of flaws in jumpy pacing and attempts to be a little too arty here and there, it’s one of those few smart suspense films that actually manages to maintain its characters. As a philosophical character piece this film excels, but as a suspense piece Original Sin is one of the most deeply woven, well done thrillers of the past several years.