Original Sin (2001)

At one point in Original Sin, while the main characters are watching a play, one of them says that she’s enjoying herself despite it being “cheap melodrama.” Whether that was an intended shot at the film she was in or just a hilarious coincidence, I’m not sure, but regardless, that’s about the most apt description of this film. Well, it’s accurate except for the “enjoying” part of her description, as there is no fun to be had while watching this movie.

Our narrator in this film is Julia Russell (Angelina Jolie). She begins the film behind bars, although we are unsure why. She explains to us that she’s going to tell us a story. It will be about love, but not be a love story, she insists. We find out that she decided to head to Cuba and meet a man whom she had been talking with via letters. She sent a photo, although it was of another woman, not herself. He, a man named Luis (Antonio Banderas), was also not honest; he actually owns a coffee shop — he doesn’t just work in it.

“We have something in common. We are both not to be trusted,” she tells him. That’s kind of true, although one of the characters is hiding something much more sinister than her true appearance or his actual amount of wealth. It would be spoiling the first major twist of the film to give away who is the real deceiver or the motivation behind it, but suffice to say that one character tricks the other, and a manhunt ensues. A private investigator (Thomas Jane) is brought in at one point to hunt this mystery character as well, although whether he’s necessary at all is something I constantly wondered as I was watching Original Sin.

Or at least, I did up until a certain point, when his purpose was finally revealed. To nobody’s surprise, I might add, as the main twist involving his character was not in the least bit surprising. You can say the same thing about every attempted twist in this film, none of which manage to surprise in the least. Every time one would occur, I yawned and lost more interest in this movie. This is the opposite of what should happen, and speaks to the quality of Original Sin on the whole.

The main problem with the plot comes from the fact that it revisits the same territory over and over again. After that one character betrays the other, and the manhunt begins, the couple eventually gets back together. And then another betrayal, and another reconciliation. It’s like the filmmakers weren’t sure how to extend a decent idea to make it last for a feature film, so they just came up with different scenarios for the characters to break up and get back together. I wonder if any were films and left on the cutting room floor.

I’ve often heard that good writers can make even the worst dialogue convincing. After seeing Original Sin, I don’t believe that. Banderas and Jolie have both turned in good performances in the past, and I would say that both are good actors given the right material. But they can’t get through a single line in this film convincingly. I imagine that there were a great deal of outtakes during filming, as I could hardly keep a straight face while listening to the lines that these actors had to spout. They had to deliver them, and I suppose credit should be given because they managed to get through it without laughing, but they’re hardly convincing.

Thomas Jane is completely over-the-top in a maybe/maybe not villain role. His character is so crazy that there’s no way to believe that he could actually be a real person. Then again, at least he doesn’t act as stupidly as possible, like the non-betrayer of the main couple does. Everything about the characters speaks to me as fake. These people simply cannot exist. They don’t act in any way resembling real people, and this takes away from any type of immersion that the film wants us to have.

Is there a positive in all of this? Original Sin is set in the 19th century, and it, at the very least, convinced me of where it was set. Its characters might not act believably, but if they didn’t exist and all I had to look at was the set designs, I would believe that it took place in the 1800s. This would also probably be a better film, as it wouldn’t include all of the terrible dialogue exchanges and characters that our finished product does.

There’s simply nothing of interest in this film. There’s nothing to hold your attention, there’s nothing to take from watching it, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel and — wait, that last one is just how I felt after being put through this mundane and excruciatingly drab movie. It lasts almost two hours as well, despite the fact that its story could be told well within 90 minutes.

Original Sin is, at best, a movie. At worst, it’s an incoherent mess that’s masquerading as a movie, just like its characters are pretending to be human beings. Like them, it gets down many of the mannerisms of its emulation target, but also like them, it doesn’t come off as believable. It is nothing more than a failed effort. It looks the part but doesn’t act it, and as a result is difficult to watch and hard to follow. It wants to surprise you with its complex plot, but you’ve seen the twists before and the film telegraphs them more obviously than a kid picking his nose.

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