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The Dying Gaul

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The Dying Gaul is directed by newcomer Craig Lucas, who is an experienced and award-winning screenwriter and playwright. It’s based on the successful play of the same name.

Set in 1995 the film follows screenwriter Robert Sandrich (Peter Sarsgaard) as he struggles to get made his highly personal film, The Dying Gaul. Robert is also grieving over the death of his partner, and agent, Malcolm. To his surprise his film is bought by Jeffrey (Campbell Scott), a persuasive studio executive who not only talks Robert into making fundamental changes to his script, but succeeds in seducing him. Jeffrey’s wife, Elaine (Patricia Clarkson), is the perfect LA wife and mother to two children, and is also a frustrated scriptwriter. She and Robert hit it off and she admires his talent and openness.

After discussing chat rooms with Robert, Elaine logs on and begins a conversation with him under a pseudonym. She discovers the affair between Robert and her husband. Elaine engages in a series of incredibly intimate chats with Robert–after obtaining information on him–in which she draws out his guilt about Malcolm’s death, and his own fears and desires about his relationship with Jeffrey. These instant message conversations are filmed in a fashion that is both emotionally engaging and establishes the sense of collapsed private space that can elicit profound and touching exchanges. This is a rare feat so far in cinema.

This is a gripping and compelling film about human frailty, unconditional love, deceit, and retribution. Lucas has proved himself an assured director the first time in the chair, and the cinematographer, Bobby Bukowski, should be congratulated for his combination of lush photography with a theatrical flourish. His use of colour to indicate mood is beautiful. All the actors are at their best, and this results in a strong American psychodrama. It’s quite astonishing to discover that the budget for the film was a mere $2 million.

This is a movie about adult themes and serious emotional issues, but its dark core is offset by humour, and touches of ecstatic grace. At one point in the film Jeffrey tells Robert, “No one is going to make a film called The Dying Gaul, which typifies the self-referential observations that lace the film about the movie business: Jeffrey’s seduction is also Hollywood’s seduction.

This is the kind of film that deserves awards, and it will be a huge shame if it is overlooked in the coming year.

This film was seen in Ireland at the Galway Film Fleadh.

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About Maura McHugh