The Dying Gaul Movie Review
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.
Though carefully avoiding long-winded speechifying, Lucas' writing nonetheless never generates a truly believable set of circumstances, his characters coming across like artificial constructs rather than real people and his scenario appearing too schematically convenient. Centered around a particular high-tech moment in time that's only somewhat pertinent to today's hard-wired world, The Dying Gaul feels like what it is - a stodgy adaptation of a decade-old play - an impression that's further confirmed by the director's theatrical enactment of Elaine/Malcolm and Robert's chat room discussions, their close-up faces juxtaposed against black-and-white backgrounds like ominous ancient busts on an empty stage. Despite Lucas' occasionally clunky plotting and visual aesthetic, however, his film manages to keep its head above water largely thanks to its three superb central performances, with Scott bringing a greedy arrogance to Jeffrey and Clarkson delicately conveying Elaine's confused hurt and fury. As Robert, Sarsgaard frequently finds it difficult to infuse humanity into a character who essentially functions as a dramatic device. Yet in a scene of orgasmic release that one wishes were more emblematic of Lucas' subdued drama, the versatile actor locates the lacerating mixture of ecstasy and shame born from romantic betrayal.
Rage against the dying of the light, and the Gaul.