Tuesday, December 22, 2009

DVD Views: The Other Man

The Other Man ** ½
Directed by:
Richard Eyre.
Written By: Richard Eyre & Charles Wood based on the short story by Bernhard Schlink.
Starring: Liam Neeson (Peter), Antonio Banderas (Ralph), Laura Linney (Lisa), Romola Garai (Abigail).

The Other Man is an uncommonly quiet film. While the film is about adultery, it does not contain the usual blowups and flying accusations that most other films on the subject do. Instead, it is about a quiet man who finds out his wife was unfaithful to him, and although he is filled with rage, he wants to discover the reason why she did, instead of just getting revenge.

We meet Peter (Liam Neeson) and Lisa (Laura) one night as they go out to dinner. He is a stuffy business executive, and she is a shoe designer, and although he doesn’t really fit into her world, but is loving and supportive. At dinner, they have a strange conversation, where Lisa wants to know if Peter every wanted to sleep with someone else. We flash forward an undetermined length of time, and Lisa is gone. Peter hacks into her computer and discovers a series of e-mails from someone named Ralph, and a file marked Love, which makes it clear that at one point at least, Lisa had an affair. Peter tracks down Ralph (Antonio Banderas), and goes to see him. But instead of confronting him about the affair, he befriends Ralph, and gradually draws out details about what Ralph and Lisa shared.

The performances in the movie are its primary virtue. Neeson is very still in the film, his performance incredibly subtle. Often he is seething with rage, yet he keeps a straight face while talking to Ralph as to not give himself away, We catch the occasional flicker of that pain coming to the surface, and when he talks to his daughter (Romola Garai) he lets some of that pain out, but mainly its all internal. There is a danger in this type of acting - if the actor does not know what she’s doing, it can come across as stiff and emotionless. But Neeson is a master at it, and it makes Peter all the more fascinating. But Antonio Banderas could be even better. On the surface, Ralph is all flash and charm, yet gradually the movie, and Banderas, show the kind of person he really is. He is a hero, a lothario, only in his own mind, and he has blown the affair with Lisa out of proportion. But Banderas makes Ralph into an almost sympathetic character. Linney’s role is much smaller - mainly there for the key dinner sequence at the beginning of the film, and several flashbacks, but its still a gut fine role.

Yet despite yet the films strength could also be its weakness – if that makes any sense at all. While I appreciated the fact that the film is quiet and subtle – and never overplays it hand – it also makes the film dull at times. We want Neesom to get angry, and he never does. We want some sort of closure, but the film is unwilling, or unable, to give this movie a satisfactory ending. What’s worse, is the movie plays hide and seek with us, only gradually revealing where exactly it is that Lisa has gone. When he we find out – what is supposed to be an emotional wallop does not come through. We figure it out long before then.

Director Richard Eyre (Iris, Notes on a Scandal) is a talented director, and The Other Man is certainly not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a rather lifeless one.

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