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Love, No Matter the Price: ‘Original Sin’ Movie Review

by | March 6, 2024 | Movies & Television

Original Sin, 2001. Written and directed by Michael Cristofer, adapted from a story by Cornell Woolrich. Starring Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas. [1h 58m]

Original Sin is a 2001 thriller (usually described as an “erotic” thriller) starring Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie in a dramatic tale of love, deception, and murder. Adding to my enjoyment, the story features coffee as a recurring motif.

Luis Antonio Vargas (Banderas) is a wealthy Cuban coffee planter and merchant in the late 1800s. Although his coffee business is flourishing and he lives the life of a privileged plantation owner in Santiago, he lacks a wife. He says he doesn’t believe in love. So he arranges to import a mail-order bride from an advertisement in a Baltimore newspaper.

When his new bride, Julia Russell (Jolie), steps off the boat, Luis is shocked by her beauty. From the photograph she sent him, Luis was expecting Julia to be plain. He only wanted her “to be kind, and true, and young enough to bear children.” Julia admits that she deceived him: she sent a photograph of another woman. She tells Luis that she did not want a man to be interested in her only because she owned a pretty face.

With a demure smile, Julia tells him, “Now I stand before you as I am. And you know the worst.” Somehow, one suspects that he doesn’t.

Luis says that he too was not entirely truthful in his correspondence. He wrote that he was a clerk in a coffee export house, but in fact he owns the business. He acknowledges that he did not want a woman to be interested in him, as Julia puts it, only because he owned a pretty bank account.

Julia sums up their mutual deception: “Well, then we have something in common. We are both not to be trusted.” With this less than promising introduction behind them, they get married that very evening.

Julia and Luis do not sleep together on their wedding night. But on the morning after their wedding, Julia brings Luis coffee on a silver tray while he is still in bed. She remarks, “If someone would bring me my coffee every morning before I dressed, I would be very happy. It would change the day.”

This confuses Luis. He reminds Julia that in one of her letters, she had written that she drinks only tea in the morning. But Julia has a ready explanation: She says her sister believes that coffee is a “sinful pleasure.” And because her sister read her letters, she sometimes had to pretend to agree with her.

Angela Jolie as Julia and Antonio Banderas as Luis in 'Original Sin'

Luis (Antonio Banderas) gives Julia (Angela Jolie) a tour of his coffee plantation in Original Sin.

Sometime later, Luis takes Julia on a tour of the coffee plantation. Showing her the ripe coffee berries, he asks her why she left the United States to become his wife. She responds that she wanted to become someone else. Luis tells Julia that with her, he is someone else, “more like myself.”

But even as their relationship becomes passionate, there are signs that Julia is indeed “someone else” and not who she seems to be. At the theater, she wanders backstage and Luis sees her with another man. Luis complains, “Christ, you’ll be the death of me!” Julia answers, “Oh … I hope so!”

But even after this comment, Luis either does not see the signs or he chooses to ignore them. He admits to his friend and business partner Alan Jordan (Jack Thompson) that he feels both love and lust for Julia. He thinks she is “lost,” but he believes he can change that.

It is only when Julia’s sister Emily (Cordelia Richards) comes to Cuba and convinces Luis that the woman he married is not Julia that Luis realizes he’s been the victim of a con artist. But by then, it’s too late. He has given her access to his personal and business financial accounts. She has taken all the money and disappeared.

The despondent Luis meets up with Walter Downs (Thomas Jane), a detective who says he’s looking for the real Julia Russell. Luis asks him to find “his” Julia too. When Downs asks why, Luis says he wants to kill her.

Luis and Downs join forces to investigate the disappearances of the two Julias. It soon appears that the Julia whom Luis married murdered the real Julia, although Downs suggests that she may have had an accomplice—someone she may have used and then discarded, who could also be in pursuit of her.

Their investigation takes them to Havana. Luis has dinner alone in the hotel. As he drinks his coffee, he overhears a woman talking nearby: “If I could have my coffee every morning before I dressed,” she says, “I would be very happy. It would change the day.” He recognizes the line, and indeed, the speaker is Julia, who is with another man, Colonel Worth (Gregory Itzin).

Luis (Antonio Banderas) with a cup of coffee in 'Original Sin'

Luis (Antonio Banderas) prepares to drink a cup of coffee in Original Sin.

From here on, the story takes numerous twists and turns as Luis and Julia reconnect, with Downs in pursuit. Even though Luis knows the truth about Julia, he cannot resist her. In fact, he loves her and wants her even more—to the point where he is willing to drink a cup of coffee she serves him, despite knowing it is laced with poison.

Is this the cup of coffee that will “change the day”?

Original Sin did not do well at the box office, and it was panned by most critics. The story is melodramatic and often contrived. But the movie is also a lot of fun, if you’re willing to suspend a little disbelief and go along with the roller coaster of revelations and dramatic events. The two co-stars, Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas, are easy to look at and they have great chemistry together. The photography (with Mexico subbing for Cuba) is beautiful.

For coffee enthusiasts like me, it’s a plus that in this version of the story, Luis owns a coffee plantation and a coffee export business. (In the 1947 book on which it’s based, Waltz into Darkness by Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish), the husband is a middle-aged New Orleans coffee merchant. In a previous movie adaptation, François Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid (1969), he is a tobacco planter on Réunion Island.) And it’s an especially nice touch that several plot turns, including the climax, are marked by Luis drinking cups of coffee, shot in close-up.

Original Sin is a cautionary tale about the potentially destructive power of love. Enjoy a cup of coffee or two while you watch it. But maybe you’ll want to make the coffee yourself, and serve it yourself, so you know what you’re getting.

Copyright © Brian Lokker 2015, 2024. An earlier version of this review was published on CoffeeCrossroads.com.

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