Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Dying Gaul - Movie Review (In praise of Peter Sarsgaard, Pt. 1)

The Dying Gaul 2005

The directorial debut by one of our favorite playwrights succeeds on many levels, but falls short on one major point. Now, we have read a few reviews of this film and most of them seem to take the writer / director Craig Lucas to task for his major plot points. We do not agree. The shortcoming of this piece is sadly Mr. Lucas directing. Not that he is any worse than thousands of other directors now working, it is just that he tends to wallow in the wrong moments. Mr. Lucas is an accomplished writer whose previous works onstage have been translated to varying degrees of success to the silver screen. His powerful AIDS timepiece, “Longtime Companion” is the perfect screen antidote to Hollywood’s pussyfooting around the subject. “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Reckless” should probably have remained onstage, but are not completely without merit. His most recent work was the screenplay to “The Secret Lives of Dentists”, which featured strong work by Hope Davis and Lucas’ offtimes onscreen protagonist, Campbell Scott.

In “The Dying Gaul”, Campbell Scott scores again playing a successful Hollywood producer who buys the rights to fledgling screenwriter, Peter Sarsgaard’s semi-autobiographical piece about his relationship with his now deceased lover. Campbell Scott is wonderful as the slick, intelligent and ultimately devious character of Jeffrey. He seems to be living the ultimate Hollywood success story. A successful producer, married to the lovely Patricia Clarkson, with the requisite two children, and stunning house overlooking the ocean. His attraction to the script written by Peter Sarsgaard’s character, Robert seems to be heartfelt, until we realize that its source is probably from a lower portion of the anatomy. It doesn’t take long before Jeffrey declares his lust for Robert. Robert does not exactly recoil from the advances. Instead, he realizes that this may be his one chance to make some money, establish his name in this-business-we-call-show, and hell – why not get a little tail while we’re at it? Sounds good. Except possibly to Jeffrey’s wife.

And of course, by now you must realize the basic premise of “The Dying Gaul”. But have you? Bum-bum-BUM!!!!!

There were many things we enjoyed greatly about this flick. The opening scene between Robert and Jeffrey was wonderful. It captured the ridiculousness of having to sell your “creative” work in an industry that more often than not celebrates non-creativity. In particular, we love the moment where Robert is stunned to realize that Jeffrey has done his homework on “The Dying Gaul” reference. Only later, does it seem creepingly planned to help win his affections. Kudos must go to Campbell Scott who never falters playing the difficult role of Jeffrey. The acting offspring of two marvelous actors – Colleen Dewhurst and George C. Scott, Campbell has really grown into his own lately. We look forward to many more brilliant portrayals – and would not be surprised at all to see him standing proudly clutching a little gold bald man. Hopefully he won’t be an ingrate like his late dad.

The role of the duped wife is parlayed by the ever luminous Patricia Clarkson. Aw, Patty. We adore you. We have for years. And here, she delivers a whallop of a performance as the former screenwriter, now Hollywood trophy wife who has stepped into one fine puddle of crap. Her instant and genuine befriending of Robert leads to a prickly mess once she stumbles upon the truth of his relationship with her husband. One that initially blindsides her, then slowly lights a fire under her that pays off with a perfectly timed and emotionally searing confrontation scene that is played to perfection by Ms. Clarkson and Mr. Sarsgaard. Bravo to the both of them! And who knew she looked so terrific in a bikini? Not us. Girlfriend can do no wrong by us. Truly one of this years best distaff performances, and hopefully one that will not be forgotten come Awards season, which is fast approaching!

Rounding out the trio of stellar performances is Peter Sarsgaard as the scarred screenwriter. At first, we were a bit taken aback by his seemingly fey mannerisms and higher pitched tone. Was he really going to play the role as such a fag? Honey, honey. Not every gay man is Truman Capote. But ever so slowly, we realized that our Petey would not let us down. Yes, he was going to adopt some outwardly femme traits – but not enough to distract us from the meat of the character. And what a great character he is. Still wrestling with the love of his life’s demise – he is uncompromising in his compromising. If such a thing can really be said to exist. Robert has chosen to play a game, a potentially lethal one, but a game nonetheless that promises a release from the financial and emotional problems that have been holding him back for so long. And hell, how can you not love a film that shows Peter Sarsgaard lubing himself up and snorting poppers while cruising chat rooms? Who can’t relate to that? We saw this flick the same weekend we saw “Jarhead”, and were blown away by the talented Mr. Sarsgaard who essays two completely different characters and never once let us down. A great year for our Petey.

And for the daring filmgoer, a potentially great evening in their neighborhood movie house. While “The Dying Gaul” may not hit the mark for every scene, it is a wonderful opportunity to watch three talented actors soar above the competition and dazzle us with their ability. You won’t be sorry we sent you! Bless you all!

Note: While we too agree that the thriller aspects of this flick are less than believable, we stand by our praise based solely on the believability of the talented trio. And hey, we weren’t that surprised at the ending. We won’t reveal any plotpoints – but suffice to say that “a gal has to do what a gal has to do.” That and our unfailing belief in “Chekhov’s Rifle Theory.”

Written & Directed by Craig Lucas

Peter Sarsgaard as Robert
Patricia Clarkson as Elaine
Campbell Scott as Jeffrey

Cinematography by Bobby Bukowski
Costume Design by Danny Glicker
Film Editing by Andy Keir
Production Design by Vincent Jefferds
Art Direction by Victoria Ruskin
Original Music by Steve Reich