Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
The Dying Gaul (2005)
Jeffrey: You are an amazing and lovely person, Robert. And you have succeeded in making me feel like a total scumbag.
Robert: Good. I'm glad.- Campbell Scott, Peter Sarsgaard
Stars: Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Campbell Scott
Director: Craig Lucas
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content and language
Run Time: 01h:35m:24s
Release Date: 2006-03-21
Genre: suspense thriller
DVD ReviewThough the esoteric title conjures up images of a highbrow, Merchant-Ivory production, The Dying Gaul is really a down-and-dirty little thriller that serves up its shot of venom with a comic chaser. Excess marks the spot in every aspect of this noir-ish Hollywood satire, which chronicles the seduction, corruption, and nasty manipulation of an idealistic screenwriter. Does the story at all mirror the experience of writer and first-time director Craig Lucas, author of Prelude to a Kiss and Longtime Companion? That's only for us to surmise, but it's obvious from the film's tone Lucas disdains Tinseltown's narcissistic and hedonistic culture, even as he depicts it with relish.
Robert Sandrich (Peter Sarsgaard) can barely believe his ears when movie executive Jeffrey Tishop (Campbell Scott) offers him a million dollars for The Dying Gaul, his screenplay about a doomed gay relationship. Still grieving over the death of his AIDS-afflicted lover—to whom his script is a thinly veiled tribute—Robert wrestles with the morality of profiting from a personal tragedy, but the lure of both big bucks and promises of future creative freedom prove irresistible. The deal, however, comes with a catch. To make the picture marketable, Jeffrey stipulates Robert must transform the script's homosexual relationship into a heterosexual one. Robert at first scoffs at the idea, but soon swallows his creative pride and embraces the change.
He also embraces Jeffrey, an active bisexual who aggressively pursues Robert, but keeps his double life a secret from his lonely wife, Elaine (Patricia Clarkson). A former screenwriter herself, Elaine has fallen victim to the material trappings of her Hollywood lifestyle, and now subsists solely on empty pleasures born from her husband's success. She, too, develops an affinity with and attraction to Robert, and her desire to get into his head (as opposed to his pants, which is Jeffrey's domain) leads her to surreptitiously seek him out in a sexually explicit internet chat room where he's a regular. What she discovers there shocks and angers her, and sets the stage for a vicious game of cat-and-mouse that soon spirals out of control.
As does The Dying Gaul. Unfortunately, just as Robert loses his way in the predatory jungle of Movieland, so, too, does Lucas' screenplay. What begins as an incisive and absorbing examination of a ménage à trois and the crudity of Hollywood degenerates into a strained thriller that favors plot and convention over characters and themes. An air of gleeful malevolence permeates the film's first half, which Lucas peppers with outrageously frank sexual come-ons and marvelous bits of humor, but in the last act, the drama's crux drowns in its noir trimmings, as Lucas trivializes such potent issues as trust and infidelity by wrapping them up in a mechanical climax that doesn't ring true.
Still, the film manages to grab and hold us, mainly because of the finely drawn, quirkycharacters and the actors who inhabit them. Fast becoming one of the medium's top talents, Sarsgaard etches a riveting and wholly believable portrayal of Robert, transmitting his homosexuality through subtle and effective effeminate ticks, but adding enough masculine shading to avoid caricature. Forever fearless, Sarsgaard takes a slew of risks that shake up our comfort level and lend Robert fascinating layers. Scott is equally effective as the slick, libidinous producer who seduces Robert body and soul without anticipating the consequences, while Clarkson brings both elegance and a quiet intensity to her role as a bored and ultimately desperate housewife.
Such intriguing interpersonal dynamics certainly sustain the film, so why take it down a noir path? Maybe Lucas, like Jeffrey, feels viewers need some kind of hook to patronize a gay-themed film, or maybe, like Robert, he was forced to compromise his original story to secure financial backing. Whatever the reason, the choice seems misguided. Plenty of thrillers clamor for our attention these days, and even though The Dying Gaul outclasses many in the genre, it's not tightly woven or believable enough to set itself apart from more pedestrian entries. By pushing the envelope too far, Lucas unwittingly shoves his film over the edge, and gyps his audience out of a more meaningful cinematic experience.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Sony serves up a very good transfer, which beautifully renders the lush colors of the Southern California coastline. The crisp, clear image masks the characters' shady deeds, and though a few errant speckles dot the print, they never grab focus. Some stretches exhibit a bit more grain than others, but the texture suits the gritty story. Fleshtones remain stable and natural throughout, and contrast, shadow detail, and black levels are all solid.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Atmospherics are rather sparse on the DD 5.1 track, but the music—which runs the gamut from classical to rap—often makes full use of the multi-channel platform. Dialogue is always easy to understand, and the tapping of keyboard keys during the chat room sequences is crisp and distinct.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Where the Truth Lies, The Confessor, Chasing Ghosts, The Tenants, Saint Ralph, The Secret Lives of Dentists, Capote, Memory of A Killer, Breakfast on Pluto
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
Extras Review: The supplements may be a bit slim, but they sure are provocative. Those who felt Brokeback Mountain didn't supply enough man-on-man action will be titillated by three deleted scenes that really ramp up the homosexual relationship between Robert and Jeffrey. The first scene culminates in an extended and explicit make-out session, the second depicts a tryst in a studio screening room, while the third allows Jeffrey to express his true feelings about Robert to his shrink. Despite the graphic displays of affection, all three excisions make the two men's illicit liaison more than a voyeuristic sideshow, as they expose the emotion lurking beneath the lascivious sex acts.
An alternate ending is also included, and though some might feel it's too tidy and pat, it smoothly eases us out of the climax and lends the film some much-needed closure. The original denouement—though brutal, devastating, and ambiguous—is too abrupt, and lacks the alternate's poetic grace.
A slew of trailers for other Sony DVD releases completes the extras package.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsLike so many Hollywood films, The Dying Gaul loses both its edge and credibility during its last act, but there's still a lot to like about Craig Lucas' kinky Tinseltown tale. Sarsgaard, Scott, and Clarkson all contribute excellent performances, and Lucas' taut screenplay and lush visuals weave a hypnotic spell. The high-voltage (homo)sexuality may offend some viewers, so keep that in mind at the rental counter.
David Krauss 2006-03-29