Original Sin (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna


I think I'm going to surprise you with what I am about to say. I'm the guy who asked why the hell Blake Edwards thought it was a wise idea to remake a Truffaut movie as a Burt Reynolds film (The Man Who Loved Women). You would therefore expect me to hate the entire idea of this lavish Hollywood remake of yet another Truffaut movie (Mississippi Mermaid), but I don't feel that way. Mississippi Mermaid was not an exceptionally good Truffaut movie. Although the idea had merit, it was filled with inexplicable behavior and illogical plot twists.

I think it was a good idea to remake it.

Before you unload on me and my obvious lack of taste, let me set the record straight. I am not telling you that Original Sin is a great movie, and I'm not recommending it. The fact that I don't object to a remake doesn't mean I endorse this particular execution of that idea, although I think it is a reasonable screen representation of the kind of plot and atmosphere represented by Cornell Woolrich's "Waltz into Darkness", the novel which formed the basis for both Truffaut's film and this one.

The basic summary: a mail order bride shows up on an island. She's not at all what the groom expected. He was waiting at the docks for a plain woman, and was confronted with a knock-out. Her story, "I didn't want you to send for me because I had a pretty face. I sent a picture of my ugly cousin." He believed it, because he had done something very similar himself. He told her that he was a simple worker when in fact he owned the factory/plantation, because he didn't want her to come because she had seen a pretty bank account. Believing her, however, was a big mistake. She was a con artist who has conspired with her boyfriend to murder the real mail order bride and clean out the groom.

Frankly, Truffaut's film had a serious problem with inexplicable character motives. When the con woman cleaned out the rich guy's bank accounts, there was no motivation for her to do that. She was trading down. What kind of con is that? She had the greatest life imaginable with a rich guy with impeccable manners who looked like a movie star and completely adored her. She would have been far better off telling him the truth and staying with him rather than cleaning out a couple of bank accounts and ending up right back where she was again in a couple of years. The only possible explanation for her actions is that her unseen partner-in-crime had an inexplicably strong hold on her, something that she just couldn't break. But the Truffaut movie never explained that. The remake tried and succeeded fairly well in that one aspect. The partners had a bizarre sadistic/masochistic co-dependency relationship that dated back to childhood. That alone could explain how he controlled her, but the screenwriter added a further clarification as well. The con woman WAS going to stay with the rich guy, until he made her write a letter to "her sister" - actually the murdered woman's sister - which forced her to end the game.

Unfortunately, both versions of the story have a massive logic error. In theory, the con woman and her partner killed the real mail order bride on the ship. They flung her overboard and concocted a scheme to impersonate her. Do you see the big problem with this set-up?

The mail order bride didn't know she was going to marry a rich man!

She thought she was going to the island to marry a mere foreman. So why would anyone decide to bump her off and take her place? To con a poor man? Conning the poor has never been an especially lucrative enterprise. (Well, to be more precise, conning a single poor person has never been very rewarding. On the other hand, if you choose to do it en masse, as do the TV evangelists, it seems to be pretty fruitful.)

The new version of the story pretty much follows the Truffaut film for 75 minutes - until the bride is rediscovered by the rich man after her flight, at which point he intends to kill her, but is dissuaded by the story of her life, a tragic tale of woe.

After that point, however, Original Sin becomes a completely different film, filled with staged deaths, cons, counter-cons, unexpected revelations, and about ten completely outrageous, over-the-top plot twists.


In the unrated version, Jolie and Banderas have a long and very energetic sex scene. Jolie's breasts and Banderas's buns are exposed continuously.

Jolie's breasts are seen again briefly twice more.

An anonymous woman is seen bathing stark naked. Other topless flashes occur.

Truffaut's film really focused on obsession, and the plot was kept fairly simple to allow him to focus on the rich man, who loved the con woman even after he knew she was an imposter. The new film is really plot-driven. I don't think it was handled properly. When a film is based on the plot, and the plot is based on secrets, you have to let it unravel naturally. This film is directed by someone who just can't keep a secret, and it spoils the fun. When the rich man and the con woman are first living together, he completely ignores some warning signs that she's lying. She smells of cigars and she tells him she smoked one of his. He catches her with another guy and she explains that she was asking for directions. She loves her morning coffee, even though she had written him that she never drinks anything but tea. C'mon now. There are two problems with this line of presentation:

1. Are we supposed to believe that he is really that obtuse? Being obsessed is one thing, but complete stupidity is quite another.

2. Even though he can't see the scam, we can. The clues would have been obvious enough, but the film's framing device shows her telling her story from prison at the beginning of the film. Therefore, when she is revealed to be an imposter, there is no surprise for us. If a film is driven by plot surprises, what is left when the surprises are not surprising?

What makes it worse is that there are so many off-the-wall plot twists. The script piles twist upon twist, but frankly, none of them are really very surprising once you realize that the author is simply going to pull out all of the stops. A film can be fun if it leads us to think one thing, then drops an opposite bombshell on us when we really don't expect it. A film may even get away with doing this more than once. But once we become aware that the changes of direction are the entire raison d'etre of the movie, we expect everything to be a con, and are therefore subsequently unsurprised to find that things differ from their appearance. We knew it already, because everything in the film is that way. We've received a written invitation to our own surprise party, and we can't even pretend we're surprised.

David Mamet can get away with that because he is brilliant enough to manage an ambience where the absence of a plot twist is a surprise and is therefore, in itself, a plot twist. Mamet is, however, about the only person in the world with the elan to pull this off.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • photogallery

  • no major features

Having said all that, let me add that Original Sin is not as bad as the critics said. It's not Plan 10 From Outer Space. It's just one of those potboiler Pia Zadora movies with Jolie slumming as the Zadora substitute. In fact, I thought the performances were amusing in an overwrought soap opera fashion, and I think that's the effect they were going for. Lara Croft did a good impersonation of Kathleen Turner with a Madonnese accent, Zorro was convincing as a lovesick guy without a clue, and Mickey Mantle did OK as the hammy actor pretending to be a detective.

I did love the fact that the evil guy (The Mick, aka Thomas Jane) gets to run around part of the movie in a Satan costume (he's an actor) - man, you don't get any further over the top in the symbolism department than that!

Tuna's Thoughts

I have no opinion as to whether or not the book deserved a remake, but it deserved more than this film accomplished.
  • First, they give the entire thing away in the opening scene, as Jolie is talking through prison bars. She is obviously not an innocent mail order bride.
  • Second, the director never effectively conveyed the entire point of the film to the audience, which was that Banderas fell suddenly and unconditionally in love with Jolie - a love so passionate, he was willing to give up being a rich and powerful company owner and become a petty card shark for her, even willing to kill on her behalf. All this, even though she swindled him out of all of his money, and tried to kill him.
  • Third, the surprise ending was the most contrived and unlikely twist I have ever seen in a film.

There was much to like about the film. The sex scene between Jolie and Banderas was rather explicit, and very hot. The two decided to forgo the pubic patches as they felt too confined by them. The scene was actually shot in reverse chronological order, with the post-coital snuggling being filmed before the actual sex, which helps explain how they could have that energetic a sex scene without breaking a sweat in the tropics. Locations were very photogenic, set decoration was very nice, and everything was lit to give a consistent look and feel to the production. The camera work was in focus, but the choice of shots bothered me a lot. In particular, there were far too many long dolly shots, where a pan, or a long establishing shot then a zoom would have worked better and been less distracting.

All in all, Scoop was correct. It is not nearly as bad as the critics would have you believe, and is probably a C- as a thriller.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 2/4, Apollo 57/100, BBC 2/5, filmcritic.com 1/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 5.8/10, Apollo voters 75/100
  • with their dollars .. a loser. Budget $26 million, domestic gross $16 million.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C- (Tuna agrees). Critics were disappointed, often savage, but it was just a ho-hum potboiler, not the unwatchable crap the critics wanted us to believe. Ebert may have been a bit high with his three stars, but it just appealed to him, I guess. 2.5 would have been a reasonable number, and is probably the score I would have given if we used that system.

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