By the late 1980s, there were few directors with as much commercial cachet as Adrian Lyne, who began as a well-regarded director of jeans and candy commercials before going on to direct two of the decade's biggest hits: 1983's Flashdance and 1987's Fatal Attraction (the film that came between, the notorious erotic drama 9 1/2 Weeks, didn't fare so well at the box office but became a bona fide hit on home video and in international markets).
Though Lyne's career had its ups and downs, he somehow managed to bounce back from every disappointment with a success: after 9 1/2 Weeks floundered, he scored one of the decade's biggest blockbusters with Fatal Attraction the following year. When Jacob's Ladder (1990) failed to catch fire, Indecent Proposal (1993) did just that with over $100 million at the box office. After the $65 million Lolita (1997) was “relegated” to Showtime after no major distributor would touch it, he made a solid comeback with Unfaithful (2002), which grossed a respectable $119 million worldwide and netted star Diane Lane an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Unfaithful may have been a success, but it was also Lyne's last film to date, marking a curious (seeming) departure from the spotlight for a director whose career was still relatively hot nearly 20 years after Jennifer Beals doused herself with a bucket of water.
So where did he go? During a recent interview with the director for a 25th anniversary retrospective of Jacob's Ladder, I asked what he'd been been up to since the release of the domestic drama over 13 years ago, being unaware of the big project that had slipped through his fingers. Turns out that after an extended sabbatical at his home in the south of France (“I would rather be French to be honest,” admitted the man who counts Truffaut and Godard among his idols), he in fact got very close to helming The Town, the crime thriller based on Chuck Hogan's 2007 novel Prince of Thieves that Ben Affleck would eventually turn into a major hit for Warner Bros.
Lyne's version, which he set up at at the studio in 2006, fell apart for a number of reasons, most prominently the studio's insistence on doing the film for a “price” (i.e. at a lower budget) and their desire to shave much of the love story that served as the centerpiece of the novel out of the script. It's an experience Lyne described as “a bitter pill”: “I loved it and I was desperate to do it,” he told me.
“I thought I could do the movie like I'd always done them, a budget of $70 [million] or something like that,” he continued. “And the world had changed, really, while I'd been in France. I mean, all of a sudden, you know, people — if you made a movie before for 70 or 80 [million], which wasn't then huge, when I came back from France all of a sudden you had to make the movie for 30 or 40. And I didn't think I could.”
As far as the pared-down love story goes, it's no surprise that Lyne — whose films, belying their critical reputations for being “glossy” and sometimes even empty, tend to lean heavily on complex human relationships (in his words,” I love the small picture rather than the big one”) — would be so let down by the studio's mandate to lessen its precedence in the story.
“I just loved the idea of a thief, of a bank robber, falling in love with one of his victims, and they don't realize that he's a bank robber because he had a mask on,” said Lyne of the romantic relationship that develops between protagonist Doug (played by Ben Affleck in the film) and Claire (Rebecca Hall). “The jeopardy of that idea is just sensational.”
After reluctantly exiting the project that could well have become his next hit, Lyne “worked on a couple of other things that didn't get made” before finally landing on Silent Wife, a thriller based on A.S.A. Harrison's 2013 novel about a woman who plots her husband's murder after discovering he's having an affair with a younger woman. The film, scripted by “Captain Phillips” and “Hunger Games” writer Billy Ray, will star Nicole Kidman in the lead role, a prospect Lyne is thrilled about.
“I'm looking forward to working with Nicole Kidman, who I think is a marvelous actress,” said Lyne. “I saw a film called 'Birth' [Jonathan Glazer's 2004 drama starring Kidman]…[and] I thought it was just staggering. I thought what she did with it — and the kid was extraordinary. I can't imagine why [audiences] didn't pile into the theaters to see it.”
Silent Wife also continues Lyne's seeming obsession with telling stories about infidelity — Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, Lolita and Unfaithful all tackle the subject to varying degrees — though he told me it's not necessarily the “infidelity” element that attracts him to these projects.
“I think it's more it being a love story, and obviously sexuality is part of that. I'm interested in how you would never believe that two people would be so hateful to each other, but still in a fucked up way love each other,” he said. “I'm interested in that. I'm not interested in sort of sexuality per se, but I am interested in the love story. Even in Fatal Attraction, I thought it was really important that at one moment, you think that maybe they could really have fallen in love with each other rather than it just being screwing.”
So which movies has Lyne sparked to as of late? Being that he's something of an elder statesman of film directors I was curious know, and Lyne named a few for me, including Alex Garland's Ex Machina (“I thought it was marvelous”), Yann Demange's '71 (“Amazing”), Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida, Joel Edgerton's The Gift and Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin.
With Silent WIfe looking to start production in June, Lyne is now turning his attention to that project, his first “go” movie in a decade-and-a-half and, with any luck, the comeback that will vault him back into the pop-cultural conversation. Of the film itself, Lyne promised: ” I think it's gonna be good.”