With her starring role as racehorse owner Penny Chenery in the just-released Disney movie 'Secretariat,' Diane Lane has added another screen persona to her long, diverse resume. A Hollywood name since the tender age of 13 when she appeared in 'A Little Romance' with Laurence Olivier, Lane has had her share of career ups and downs, with several of the latter occurring early on, when an actor's career can most easily derail.
But Lane -- her conventional prettiness made even more attractive by the quiet intelligence and emotional honesty she conveys onscreen -- persevered. Her willingness to "go there" both emotionally and physically resulted in what was easily the best role of her career: wayward suburban wife Connie Sumner in Adrian Lyne's 2002 romantic thriller 'Unfaithful.' Though critical and popular reaction to the movie was mixed, no one disputed the power of Lane's performance as a conflicted woman caught up in a tumultuous extra-marital affair; it won her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Even as far back as 'A Little Romance,' in which she played a young American in love with a French boy, Lane had a subtle, watchful quality that distinguished her screen presence. That auspicious debut was followed by various low-radar projects, including seminal girl-power film 'Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains,' in which she embodied an aspiring punk rocker, before she returned to the Hollywood front lines in Francis Ford Coppola's twin S.E. Hinton adaptations 'The Outsiders' and the atmospheric, highly stylized 'Rumble Fish,' memorably playing Matt Dillon's shrewd girlfriend in the latter.
Lane next starred as a kidnapped rock singer in Walter Hill's visually audacious 'Streets of Fire' and was a 1920's-era vamp opposite Richard Gere in Coppola's widely (and unfairly) maligned 'The Cotton Club' the same year (1984). After re-teaming with Dillon for the pulpy 'The Big Town,' in which she went all out as a maliciously scheming stripper, she played a soulful variation on the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold theme in popular 1990 TV mini-series 'Lonesome Dove.' Through the next decade she took on a variety of parts in movies big ('Chaplin') and small ('My New Gun'), but it wasn't until Tony Goldwyn's 1999 directorial debut 'A Walk on the Moon' that she got role truly worthy of her talents.
In a film that foreshadowed the more commercial 'Unfaithful,' Lane played Pearl Kantrowitz, a young New York housewife who spends the summer of 1969 at a camp in the Catskills with her kids and mother-in-law while her husband (Liev Schreiber) stays in the city. Caught up in the changing times (Woodstock!), Pearl loses her inhibitions with a free-spirited blouse peddler (Viggo Mortensen). Lane is typically understated and moving as a lonely woman who uncharacteristically throws caution to the wind.
In 2000 Lane helped inject some warmth into blockbuster 'The Perfect Storm' as Mark Wahlberg's girlfriend before landing 'Unfaithful,' a remake of Claude Chabrol's 'La Femme infidèle.' She plays the wife of a successful businessman (Richard Gere) and the doting mother of a young boy, seemingly content with her life until she literally bumps into an insanely attractive French book dealer Paul (Olivier Martinez) in the street. Connie becomes passionately, obsessively smitten, but the resulting affair takes a terrible toll on everyone involved. Gere is great as her wounded, humiliated husband, but it's Lane's portrayal of a woman experiencing a wild spectrum of emotional states that makes the movie so watchable. (That and several sizzling sex scenes.)
A sequence in which Connie calls Paul for the first time, from Grand Central Terminal, is wonderfully played; Lane expresses her character's ambivalence, excitement and nervousness perfectly. The oft-cited scene in which she rides the train home after their first sexual tryst is a true acting tour de force. As she simultaneously laughs and cries, reliving the steamy details, her face registers everything -- amazement, guilt, lust. It's an incredibly honest portrayal; even if we've never been in those shoes, somehow we relate. Equally impressive are Lane's tender scenes with Gere.
In the following years Lane would go on to star in popular romance 'Under the Tuscan Sun' and genial romcom 'Must Love Dogs' before nailing the gritty role of Toni Mannix, the studio head's wife who has an affair with George Reeves (Ben Affleck), in 2006's 'Hollywoodland.' (She has since appeared in several so-so films.) But only her Mannix character came anywhere close to the intensity of Connie Sumner in 'Unfaithful.' Let's hope she gets the opportunity to wow us like that again.