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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.25%
Worth A Look: 37.5%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Dying Gaul, The
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by Aaron Ducat

"The dynamic between the partners is thoroughly weak and insignificant."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SEATTLE FILM FESTIVAL: Perhaps the most appropriate thing to say about The Dying Gaul is that it’s a visually beautiful and tremendously-acted poorly-written film. In many ways Gaul is the independent version of Mystic River, another film which sparkles cinematically and features wonderfully skilled performances, all the while hamstrung by a poorly constructed plot.

Gaul is the story of Robert (Peter Sarsgaard), a gay screenwriter who has recently lost his lover and agent to AIDS, who has just completed the script for a film titled “The Dying Gaul”. Studio exec Jeffrey (Campbell Scoot) offers one million dollars for the film, the sole caveat being that Robert must re-write the story to portray a hetero-, rather than a homosexual, relationship. This Faustian dilemma is laid out within the first five minutes of the film and strikes at the heart of any artist’s concerns: creative integrity versus economic necessity. With a feeble and shaken Robert pitted against the sleek moneyman Jeffrey (who at one point sardonically justifies his demands by comparing the screenplay with Tootsie and stating, “No one goes to the movies to have a bad time. Or to learn anything.”), the dilemma is quickly and nearly painlessly resolved (one can’t help thinking the title should have been “The Dying Gall” for how easily Robert caves). As Robert’s computer changes the name “Maurice” to “Maggie,” the plot turns from the potential intrapersonal struggle of Robert, choosing instead to focus on the triangle that quickly develops between Robert, Jeffrey, and Jeffrey’s wife Elaine (Patricia Clarkson). (For those interested in the struggle between artistic integrity and money see the excellent and wrenching Noviembre by Spain’s Achero Manas.)

Jeffrey quickly pulls Robert into his high-powered world of cocktail parties and movie screenings. Along the way a close relationship develops between Robert and Jeffrey’s wife Elaine, a despondent former screenwriter who now discontents herself as a housewife. We soon learn that Jeffrey is bisexual, and he and Robert begin an affair. Robert confesses to Elaine that he helped kill his ex, Malcolm (Bill Camp), while Malcolm was dying from AIDS in the hospital. Elaine takes an interest in Robert’s online chatting, and, beginning to suspect the affair, steals copies of Robert’s journals and gathers information about Malcolm. Playing on Robert’s Buddhist beliefs, Elaine begins instant-messaging him under the guise of Malcolm returned, which drives Robert to a conflicted guilt as he feels he has betrayed his ex. Elaine eventually confronts Jeffrey and Robert, and things come crashing down for two of the three parties.

The unavoidable problem with Gaul is that the love triangle, which is central to the film’s conflict, and thus emotional power, is at best a stretch, and cannot sustain the impact the film aims for. For all its hope to be a psychological and emotional suspense thriller, the dynamics between the partners is thoroughly weak and insignificant, and cannot carry off the movie’s goals. Further, there is a lack of character development to the point that when things get twisted and messy, we’re left wondering why these people are acting the way they are. The film opens with a line from Moby Dick which reads, “Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appall.” The first ten minutes toy with that question, and the rest of the film languishes in a world which is sadly neither pleasing nor appalling

The Dying Gaul is based on screenwriter and director Craig Lucas’ adaptation of his play by the same title. This is Lucas’ first turn as a director, and he responds strongly, eliciting wonderful performances and creating a visually beautiful film. There are many tremendous, shimmering shots involving water, most especially as Clarkson thoughtfully swims alone in their Malibu pool.

Despite its flaws in construction, wonderful performances nevertheless abound, with talented actors doing their best to redeem unfocused characters. Elaine is portrayed with wistful, moving sympathy by Clarkson, who continues to demonstrate what an excellent actor she is. Campbell Scott continues his string of excellent performances, lending as much humanity to Jeffrey’s unctuous character as possible. Sarsgaard, however, ultimately steals the show, portraying Robert with a gentle, demure and dignified air. There’s a tremendous scene in which he cries and then immediately laughs after sex with Jeffrey, and he depicts a struggling and confused man with an air of approachableness and believability. I saw Gaul at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, at which Sarsgaard will be honored with the Golden Space Needle Award for Achievement in Acting. If you’re unsure how much critical import should be placed upon the administration of a bronzed phallic object, Sarsgaard’s performance will remove any concerns and will stand, along with his other leads, as superb examples of what fine acting should look like.

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originally posted: 06/22/05 06:40:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/06/06 Phil M. Aficionado Fine acting and filming almost save this hokey psychodrama. Almost, but not quite. 3 stars
8/31/06 William Goss Decent acting showcase, little else. Alternate ending is slightly less abrupt, bit better. 3 stars
5/07/06 janis shearer the actor ryan miller is my grand son.I'd like to contact him and the family please . I bag 5 stars
2/08/05 Mat Performances by Sarsgaard,Scott, and Clarkson are great. Bit film is a bit slowmoving. 3 stars
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  04-Nov-2005 (R)
  DVD: 21-Mar-2006



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