Major flaws of casting (with one notable exception) and a cold, detached mode of direction cripple this potentially interesting melodrama. The main faults of this picture can all be traced back to the flick's woefully misguided attempts at turning Jeremy Irons into a sex symbol.
Stephen Fleming, a well-to-do politician (Irons, somehow creating a performance both underdone and hyperbolic) strikes it up with Anna, a beautiful young woman at a party (Juliette Binoche, unengaging) and embarks on a wild sexual affair. Finding out that she is in a relationship with his son, Martin (the beautiful Rupert Graves, pretty good in a negligible role) doesn't douse his passion, and their affair becomes more and more dangerous to all involved, including Fleming's wife, Ingrid (Miranda Richardson, absolutely f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c).
The heart of this picture should be in the myriad sex scenes, but they are acted and directed so as to be deterrents to passion and interest. Jeremy Irons offers such a childish, over-the-top imitation of coital ecstasy that it makes you wonder whether he had ever had sex before. Whatever you want to call his beastly howling, you can't call it realistic. Juliette Binoche does an okay job convincing us that Anna is even marginally turned on by these overwrought trysting sessions, but even her beauty and natural sad charisma can't save the cold direction from itself. Grand opera and chilly classical scores aren't hugely appropriate accompaniments to passionate sex scenes. As a result, what should have been hypnotic and sensual is merely clinical, and we end up having no idea of WHY Anna and Fleming are so addicted to each other.
The performances of the two leads are so distant and underplayed that it is impossible to believe that such a relationship could actually take place. For a film like this to work, we need to understand the irresistible danger and the adrenaline rush that attracts Fleming to such a scenario. The viewer is forced to look at the proceedings from a distance when, for the film to function, they should have been in the thick of things.
The ending is the best part, thanks to Miranda Richardson. She blows the entire film out of the water in a magnificent two-scene acting feat that must be seen to be believed.
Overall, the film is nice-looking but so coldly unemotional that it is impossible to really identify with the events happening onscreen.