A review of “The Dying Gaul” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language and sexual situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

 

 

Industry pimp meets industry pawn in this surreal love story headlined by a top-notch cast.

The underbelly of Hollywood is a nasty player in the lives of spin-doctoring exec Jeffrey (Campbell Scott) and his smart but professionally frustrated wife Elaine (Patricia Clarkson). The two live high in the Los Angeles hills breathing the rarefied air of the Hollywood-haves and putting a happy face on their routine marriage.

Enter struggling screenwriter Robert (Peter Sarsgaard) whose edgy script on gay love and death has sparked the attention of the primary movers and shakers. Jeffrey and Robert dance around a deal and finally settle on terms: one million dollars and copious re-writes that will transform gay into heterosexual (for the broadest public appeal) and strongly betray Robert’s professional principles.

Jeffrey is into the project and unfortunately a little too into Robert himself. The two become lovers while Elaine and Robert develop a sweet friendship based on the tenuous connections of the emotionally fragile.

From a brittle satire of the Hollywood machine the film veers a sharp left into a sensitive mind-bender that has doom written all over it. Elaine involves herself in Robert’s intimate affairs out of jealousy and a dash of spite. The trio of core players bites off a lot more than they can chew with tragic consequences.

Craig Lucas gets the most out of his cast by focusing on the versatility of their gifts. Scott and Clarkson maintain steely control of their feelings while simultaneously telegraphing their turmoil and insecurities for all to see. At least those who are looking. In my book Sarsgaard is the most capable actor of his generation; his Robert every inch a product of his enormous talent.

Shift in gears makes for an unforeseen ka-chunk midway but “Gaul” ultimately settles into the whip-smart independent that it was meant to be.