The gay screenwriter Robert, who is grieving the recent loss of his lover, writes a screenplay based on his biography and tries to sell it to the Hollywood producer Jeffrey. He offers one million dollars for his work, provided changes in the story replacing the dying man per a woman to make a commercial film. Jeffrey shows the screenplay to his wife Elaine, who loves to write and to plant flowers, and she is also delighted with the story. Robert works introducing the required modifications and Jeffrey, who is bisexual, has an affair with him. Meanwhile Elaine finds the gay website where Robert writes and she creates a fake profile to have conversation with him pretending that she is his deceased lover. Soon she learns the affair of her husband and she decides to leave him. But when the gay Robert discovers the truth, he has a breakdown and takes vengeance for Elaine with tragic consequences. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
"The Dying Gaul" feels like an updated "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" set in Hollywood instead of academia. But it gradually veers towards "Fatal Attraction" as the opening jabs at commercial film-making, with lots of name and title dropping that seem to be writer Craig Lucas's revenge on compromises he made for his successful "Prelude to a Kiss," give way to catastrophic psychological manipulation.
The initial Hollywood commentary is emphasized through the settings, as the movie producer, Campbell Scott, and his ex-writer/liberal activist/household and children manager wife, Patricia Clarkson, live in an extraordinary house with a rippling pool and ocean view. Their financial success is wielded like a weapon as the camera restlessly swoops around all their possessions, household help and scenic property. The emotional price he's paid for this is clear as Scott's "Jeffrey" could be in "Glengarry Glen Ross" (to drop film titles like he does) as he'll clearly do anything to seal a deal.
Peter Sarsgaard drives on to the studio lot and into their lives with a completely different character from his four other released films this year, with inflections and body language that only occasionally get a bit too flamboyant as affectations of an out gay writer discussing issues of sexuality in the movies and his late lover. His grief and need for human warmth is so palpable that it is even believable that after failing with psychological counseling and Buddhism to deal with it, he clutches at what used to be called spiritualism, here delivered through the internet, shown visually both in the written word and the actors talking to the camera like reading aloud from their computer screens, edited effectively in the best key scenes with real life.
Clarkson is wonderful as she morphs from busy housewife lounging in a fetching bikini, to curious dabbler in the dark side, to woman scorned and revengeful manipulator. She may be the Ultimate Scary Mother, sexy, maternal and controlling, who while distraught over violent video games goes after the psyche. Unusually for how such a triangle has been portrayed in films (and the film is specifically set in 1995 as perhaps a more innocent time), we also get brief, sympathetic insight on another woman similarly affected by the writer's selfish actions that puts Clarkson's "Elaine" in perspective as she could have been portrayed as more of a brittle harpy. But each character alternately attracts and repels us.
In his directing debut Lucas does not well serve his own script, adapted from his play, as it could have been a lot tauter in exploring the slippery slope of ethics in human relationships, that all it takes is that one small step to deceive or keep secrets before one falls into the well. There could have been a lot fewer arty scenes in silhouette, at sunset, across water.
The Steve Reich music throughout becomes more irritating than tension-inducing.
While the title has something to do with the writer's long monologue about the significance of the Roman sculpture as an artist's way to make victims sympathetic, one is left here more with the feeling that these three folks deserve each other, though the collateral damage left in their wake is a tragedy.
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