August 2, 2001


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Sex and suspense: Antonio and Angelina

Arthur J Pais

Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie in Original Sin Will Ashok Amritraj's Original Sin pay at the box-office, and redeem his reputation?

Amritraj, one of Hollywood's most visible independent producers, hasn't had much luck this year with his previous films -- Antitrust, and What's The Worst That Could Happen.

But Original Sin which top lines Angelina Jolie, whose Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is one of the hottest movies of the year, and Spy Kids star Antonio Banderas, could bring Amritraj luck the third time around.

The movie, which Amritraj's Hyde Park Entertainment produced with MGM, offers steamy sex, suspense and emotional punch.

But it is also being released the same week, Rush Hour 2, which is expected to be a roaring hit. Competition also comes from Planet of the Apes; which continues performing well in its second week.

Original Sin, which opened in France and Germany last month where it was savaged by many critics, managed ho-hum business there, accumulating about $ 2.5 million. The $ 45 million production needs to gross at least $ 100 million to break even.

Amritraj is confident that the audiences across North America will react to the film more favorably, and that it will do very well in Spain, where native son Banderas has huge following, and also in South America where both Banderas and Jolie have mass following.

"They are a big draw for the movie," Amritraj (whose movies have featured acclaimed stars as Ben Kingsley, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, Martin Lawrence and Cuba Gooding Jr) says with pride.

"At Hyde Park we have been able to draw some of the biggest names in Hollywood." His next film -- Bandits a comedy, stars Bruce Willis and Cate Blanchett. Oscar-winner Barry Levinson directs it.

Banderas' hits include The Mask of Zorro, which has grossed over $ 250 million worldwide. Jolie won an Oscar in the supporting actress category for Girl, Interrupted.

Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie in Original Sin Original Sin is directed by Michael Cristofer, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright making feature film debut.

It is based on a well-known suspense novel, Waltz Into Darkness by Cornell Woolrich.

Several of Woolrich novels have been made into movies by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window) and Francois Truffaut (The Bride Wore Black). The latter even inspired the Hindi hit, Nagin starring Reena Roy two decades ago.

Woolrich's novel asked a few tempting questions:
What if you fell in love with a beautiful woman, a woman who is capable of doing things to you that you have only dreamt of?
What if she isn't who she says she is?
What if she is also capable of murder?

"Sex, sin, redemption are subjects of eternal interest and audiences across the world flock to see films with these themes," Amritraj says.

Set in the exotic world of Cuba in the late 1800s but shot in Mexico, Original Sin is the story of Luis Antonio Vargas. A wealthy coffee merchant, he arranges his marriage through the mail but discovers that the woman, Julia, who arrives to share his house, is an imposter with an eye on his fortune.

Intrigued by the woman, he decides to take a chance on her. But when she disappears with his money, he is forced to look into her past. Soon his love and passion for her turns into a desire for revenge.

"This is the story about the dangerous and lethal power of love," Amritraj says.

"Suspense stories never go out of vogue," Amritraj continues. He says the movie offers not only an intriguing plot but also colourful backdrop.

Director Michael Cristofer, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright whose Gia for HBO brought him the Directors Guild of America Award, offers his own interpretation.

Angelina Jolie in Original Sin "On the surface, this story is about the power of sexuality," he says, "and how far those instincts can lead and overpower you."

"But at its heart the story is really about acceptance of one's self : good and bad, dark and light."

He was also intrigued by Julia's character. "She is torn between the two worlds," he says, "one that is false but which offers her love --- and another that is more real but infinitely darker and dangerous."

"Because she cannot accept herself as someone worthy of being loved, she tries to reject Luis' love. She is then caught between the lighter side of herself and a much darker side, which in this case, is very dark indeed."

Cristofer says he was also excited by the "shockingly contemporary nature" of Woolrich's story.

He decided to play up, he says, "the fierce tension between desire, power, sexuality and identity."

Woolrich's Waltz Into Darkness is considered to be one of the most unusual psychological novels. It is not just a story of obsessional love. For it is also about a lonely man driven to near madness by his only real encounter with love.

Banderas says he accepted Original Sin soon after hearing about the film from Amritraj and his co producer David Hoberman.

He was fascinated by the contradictions in the character he plays in the movie -- a wealthy man who has everything but feels empty inside.

A still from Original Sin "Luis reminded me of a saying we have in Spain," Banderas, Spain's most popular star, says "A man who doesn't want anything is invincible."

"This is the way Luis feels in the beginning. But as soon as he falls for Julia, he becomes very vulnerable. For the love of this woman, he risks his fortune, his friends, his heart and eventually his very life."

Banderas also says he liked the way the story shifted from love story to a detective story and back again.

"Love, passion and obsession mix until you can no longer separate them," he explains in the production notes.

"This is not your traditional love story. It is about the mysteries inside the souls of human beings, and at the same time a thriller with lots of twists and turns to surprise the audience."

This Sunday Amritraj will know if his version of sin and redemption has paid at the box-office. But the seasoned filmmaker also cautions against judging a film's success solely by ticket sales.

For many movies, there is after all a lot of life after the theatrical run, he says, adding video and CD sales also contribute to a hefty share of revenue.

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