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Original Sin
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Antonio Banderas, Angelina Jolie, Thomas Jane, Jack Thompson, Gregory Itzin, Allison Mackie

Written By: Michael Cristofer, Cornall Woolrich (novel) Directed By: Michael Cristofer

The Short Version

Oh sure, Original Sin is trashy, but it’s magnetically trashy.

You will, of course, be wanting the unrated edition.

You’ll probably be looking for the tail end of Chapter 3, by the way.  You’re welcome.

This movie is all about the melodrama; trying to make sense of it is a probably bad idea.

Original Sin has just three reactive settings: “love it,” “hate it,” or “what the hell was that?”

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


People make puns about the name all the time, but I actually know very few people who like it to the point where they’ll specifically request it.

Pairs Well With...


“If someone would bring me my coffee every morning before I dressed, I would be very happy.  It would change the day.”

Might as well have fun with it!

“It's the theater.  I love it.  Even the cheap melodrama.”

Amazingly enough, Original Sin is a remake of a movie based on a book.  The book was called “Waltz into Darkness,” written by Cornell Woolrich, who also once wrote a short story that became Rear Window.  The movie was (unfortunately) called Mississippi Mermaid, directed by Francois Truffaut. 

I don’t think either of those people ever imagined that the story’s third evolutionary stage would involve Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie going at it with reckless enthusiasm in “we’ll show everything but the plumbing” splendor, but I don’t particularly care.  Besides, it’s not as though most people looking for Original Sin have any idea that anything came before it anyway.

I’ll tell you up front that most critics who don’t just throw up their hands and say “I don’t freakin’ know!” with regard to this movie absolutely hate it.  (And I do mean hate.)  I’ll also tell you that I happen to love Original Sin, and it’s probably not for the reason you think.

Boiled down to a single word, I love Original Sin for its honesty.  This is a pretty neat trick, considering that the movie is about dishonest people.

As our story begins, we meet a woman whom we will come to know as Julia (Angelina Jolie, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow).  It looks like she’s behind bars, so things probably aren’t going so well for her.  But she’s not thinking about the present; rather, she’s thinking about the past.  As she remembers, she begins to tell us about it by way of a voice over.

“You cannot walk away from love.  That was the advertisement in a Baltimore newspaper, and that is how he found her.”

As it turns out, “he” is Louis Vargas (Antonio Banderas, Femme Fatale), a Cuban gentleman who doesn’t believe in love but who would like a wife anyway because that’s just how things are supposed to work.  He really doesn’t want to bother with the whole business of courting, though, and since there’s no such thing as internet dating in what looks to be the late 1800s or so, he does the mail order bride thing by actual mail.  When his American bride-to-be, Julia, arrives, he’s shocked to discover that she’s much prettier than her picture.  That is, she says, because she sent him a false photo of her plainer sister (there being no Photoshop at the time), with the logic being that she didn’t want someone to marry her just for her looks.  Louis in turn confesses to his own deception, admitting that he is not, as he had been writing, a simple clerk at a coffee plantation.  Rather, he owns the coffee plantation.  He failed to mention this, he says, because he didn’t want a woman to marry him for his bank account.  Each quite cordially agrees that neither appears to be trustworthy, but being good sports (and standing to come out ahead in both cases), they laugh it off and go ahead with the wedding anyway.

Neither one expects to actually fall in love, but they do.  This makes things quite complicated, especially since Julia has a few other things that she didn’t fess up to back at the dock…

And from there, my friends, we have a twisted journey into melodrama and mayhem.

On the one hand, it seems blindingly obvious to state that Original Sin is at its core the story of a dysfunctional relationship.  On the other, most people seem have a hard time going along with this.  I will admit that given that the amount of dysfunctional relationships out there seems to outnumber “normal” ones to a significant degree, this perplexes me.

Consider the following.

Long story short, Julia – we’ll just keep calling her Julia – ends up betraying Louis in all sorts of major ways that tend to be attached to the phrase “lose everything.”  Louis, having lost everything, convinces himself that he wants to kill her, and sets about the business of going to do exactly that.  However, once she’s at his mercy and essentially admits to having been a bad, horrible, deceitful person who undoubtedly deserves what’s coming next, he puts the gun down, forgives her, and not only takes her back, but goes on the run with her.

People seem to have a hard time believing this.  They say it’s unrealistic.

And yet, many of these same people will then later in the week turn on the Lifetime Channel or WTN or Tru TV or whatever and simply nod when the battered woman bails her abusive husband out of jail and tears up the restraining order.  After all, everyone knows that really happens on a disturbingly regular basis.

Put two and two together yet?

Toss aside a gender prejudice or two, and Louis now makes a lot more sense.  Indeed, for anyone who’s been in a dysfunctional relationship of any kind and who’s comfortable enough in their own skin to be brutally honest with themselves, Louis makes perfect sense.

Admitting this may not be popular, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true.  When I say that I love Original Sin for its honesty, this is part of what I’m talking about.  Far from being ridiculous impossibilities, these are refreshingly interesting (though deeply flawed) characters that just happen to live in a place where the mainstream doesn’t like to go.  “You betrayed me so now I hate you” is the easy route.  Original Sin is the road less travelled by art even though the path is quite well worn by life.  I’m not saying that it’s the most common path, but well worn?  Oh yeah.

I’ll leave the twists and turns and double and triple flips that occur after Louis and Julia go on the run for you to discover, but I will say that however convoluted they may be, I find them to be no less honest, and for the most part, no less fun.

And that brings us to the other thing.

Original Sin is fun.

It’s fun in large part because it is so shamelessly comfortable in its own skin.  It’s a bawdy, cheesy melodrama that makes absolutely no apologies for itself.  It’s a bodice ripper without the ridiculous manners and pretenses.  Original Sin is the reward for anyone who’s ever been infuriated by a nineteenth century tome like “Jane Eyre” and wondered “why the hell don’t they just screw already?”

Original Sin is, to return to our buzz word, honest with itself.  It knows that it’s cheap, theatrical melodrama, and plays up to that for all it’s worth… while still daring to be filmed in an overall style not dissimilar from that of the more polite bodice rippers that it’s mooning along the way.  Original Sin takes the label of “trashy” and embraces it exactly as far as the framework of its world will allow.

This is another neat trick, by the way.  Hold that thought and I’ll circle back in a minute.

First, it’s my turn to be honest.  I know that most people who have an interest in Original Sin are probably far less interested in how well the characterizations work or how the melodrama plays out than they are in combinations of the phrases “Angelina Jolie naked,” “Antonio Banderas naked,” and “Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas in a sex scene.”  This is, of course, why you want the unrated edition, because while the theatrical version had all of these things, it’s way more fun with the extra two minutes or so, isn’t it?  Yes, you will indeed get what you paid for, and if you’d like to play the bonus game of “how did they hide all of Angelina’s ink,” be my guest.  I’m sure that’s going to be the real reason you keep backing up to start certain scenes over again when they finish.  With that said, despite the film’s reputation, most softcore is hotter than this, but then again, most softcore isn’t Angelina and Antonio, is it?  No, it’s not. 

This brings us back to the neat trick of trash that doesn’t cross the line.  Had Original Sin crossed that line into softcore, the bizarre magic that makes it all work would have been broken.  But instead, it stops just short, allowing the atmosphere of period melodrama to remain.  (Ironically, the producers would rather you think it was softcore; that’s why they gave it the ridiculous title and sat on it for a year until they decided that they could cash in on everyone wanting to see the boobs of the actress who just finished playing Lara Croft.)  The sex is vital to making the movie work, for certain, but it’s not the actual point of the film unless you want it to be.  (And if that is all you want, I certainly won’t fault you for it.)

And that, in the end, is the key to it all.  Original Sin, like most melodrama, is exactly what you want it to be; no more, and no less.  You want a couple of superstars having sex surrounded by a movie?  There you go.  You want a period piece about a dysfunctional relationship?  There you go.  You want an old fashioned bodice ripper where they actually get to the good stuff without spending four hundred pages whining about being from different social classes?  There you go.  You want just plain trash?  I think you’ve got the hang of it now.

Just remember: the secret to cheap melodrama that’s effective is to make the audience decide that it’s superficial.  Often, it’s not.

Like here, for instance.

Bottom line, Original Sin is cheap melodrama.  It’s cheap, trashy melodrama, to be sure, but it is also cheap, honest melodrama, and honesty in mainstream films is a rare thing indeed.  For my money, you can also add “fun” to the list of appropriate adjectives.  As noted, mine appears to be the minority view here, but I do think it’s worth your time to have a look at Original Sin and find out for yourself whether or not you agree.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, December, 2011

More From The Bar! | Basic Instinct | Killer Nun | Lying in Wait |

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