I originally planned on seeing The Dying Gaul in the same Thanksgiving weekend when I saw Rent and Pride and Prejudice. I didn’t make it, and by the time I could, it had already finished its Austin run.
So I waited for the DVD release instead.
I wanted to see the movie based upon Jette’s recommendation, but my real incentive was to watch Campbell Scott and Peter Sarsgaard — two great and handsome actors — get intimate.
(There wasn’t much of that in the actual film, but check out some of the deleted scenes.)
Jette warns The Dying Gaul may not be a film you actually enjoy, although she describes it as absorbing and fascinating. And I agree. (Frankly, I’m not sure why I’m writing my own review since Jette covers a lot of points I noticed as well.)
But on the spectrum of good movies you may not like, The Dying Gaul doesn’t sit anywhere near, say, Requiem for a Dream or Mysterious Skin. The story does takes some very dark turns, but the characters are still sympathetic.
The Dying Gaul begins with Jeffrey (Scott) offering Robert (Sarsgaard) a million dollars for his screenplay — also titled The Dying Gaul — so long as Robert agrees to change the main characters from a gay couple to a heterosexual couple.
Robert agrees after relentless pursuasion by Jeffery, and once he does Jeffrey makes advances on Robert.
Jeffrey’s wife, Elaine (Patricia Clarkson), reads the script and insists on meeting Robert. Elaine and Robert form a bond, until she finds out what Robert and her husband do in their time alone together.
That puts Elaine on a destructive course to save her marriage.
Screenwriter Craig Lucas adapted The Dying Gaul from his own stage play, and he does an excellent job painting out the motivations of each character, making their desparate actions believable.
Robert still grieves for his late lover, Max, which he channels into his screenplay. Elaine, an unsuccessful screenwriter herself, uses this grief — and Robert’s secret about Max’s death — against him.
What makes the antagonism between Robert and Elaine so grim is the fact they still like each other. Robert insists he doesn’t want to hurt Elaine, while Elaine seems to want to help Robert get past his grief.
The road to hell and all that.
The performances are all excellent. Clarkson does a great job hiding her character’s quiet boredom. Sarsgaard seems to have a magic touch when it comes to choosing projects — just about every film he’s in (Garden State, Kinsey) is a critic’s darling. Jette mentions Scott’s understated acting. There’s a deleted scene in a psychiatrist’s office that demonstrates this skill quite well.
Each twist in the story of The Dying Gaul will make you mutter, "Oh, no", but you can’t turn away. This film is indeed dark and not something to watch for escapism, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with its artistry either.