In 1995, the internet was still a strange, scary destination for most Americans, a primary meeting place for pornography hounds and other assorted lonely creeps who sought out the thrilling anonymity of the web's myriad chat rooms. Based on one of his plays, Craig Lucas' (The Secret Lives of Dentists, Prelude to a Kiss) directorial debut The Dying Gaul is fascinated with the dangerous allure of these online social venues, which provide users with identity secrecy and, thus, the means to express taboo fantasies (and deal with emotionally corrosive issues) from the comfort and safety of home. Part movie industry critique and part Greek tragedy, Lucas' film charts the modem-enabled turmoil between a married Tinsletown power couple and an aspiring gay screenwriter in the luxurious Hollywood hills, a trio whose interpersonal dynamic is irreparably disrupted thanks to the nasty role-playing opportunities afforded by computers. Yet with its story of rampant duplicity and showbiz shallowness tied to a now technologically outdated mid-'90s milieu, and with its satire weighed down by banality, The Dying Gaul seems relevant only insofar as its cast effectively pinpoints the vengeful malice born from spurned love and squandered trust.
Jeffrey (Campbell Scott) is a bottom line-driven producer interested in Robert's (Peter Sarsgaard) script "The Dying Gaul," a semi-autobiographical tale about AIDS based on his relationship with his now-dead agent and partner Malcolm (Bill Camp). However, to make the project commercially viable, Jeffrey demands that Robert change the central couple from a homosexual to heterosexual duo. Jettisoning his integrity, Robert sells out and does as Jeffrey asks, in the process pocketing $1 million and establishing a close-knit friendship with Jeffrey and his failed screenwriter wife Elaine (Patricia Clarkson), whose life is so purposeless that learning how to control her multi-million dollar house's blinds constitutes an exciting afternoon. Yet the happy threesome's relationship is soon torn asunder when, after learning that Robert frequents chat rooms, Elaine strikes up an in-disguise online conversation with her new friend and learns that he's having an affair with Jeffrey. This devastating discovery frighteningly undercuts Elaine's sense of security and stability while also igniting a desire for retribution, leading to a dangerous game of cyberspace cat-and-mouse in which Elaine poses as the back-from-the-dead spirit of Malcolm and, ultimately, each character's true, less-than-savory personalities are drawn out into the blinding L.A. light of day.
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