The Dying Gaul

© 2005 Ray Wong

Patricia Clarkson, Campbell Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, Ryan Miller, Faith Jefferies, Bill Camp
Craig Lucas
Craig Lucas
Strand Releasing (produced by Holedigger Films and Twopoundbad)
MPAA Rating:
R for sexual content and language
Running time:
101 minutes

Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 7

Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total Score – 7.2 out of 10

The DYING GAUL refers to the statue of a wounded Celtic warrior, as well as the title of the screenplay mentioned in the film. It is also a metaphor for the film: the statue depicts the defeat of the human spirit rather than of flesh.

Jeffrey (Scott) is a hot-shot movie producer looking for fresh material. He’s interested in The Dying Gaul, a screenplay about AIDS written by aspiring writer Robert (Sarsgaard). He offers Robert $1 million for the script, but there’s a catch – Robert must change the protagonists from two gay men to a heterosexual couple. Robert takes the offer with much guilt, as he’s dedicated his screenplay to his late partner, Malcolm (Camp) who died of AIDS. Jeffrey seduces him with money and sex, both irresistible to vulnerable, guilt-ridden and grief-stricken Robert.

As Jeffrey includes Robert to his posh beachside estate and family, his wife, Elaine (Clarkson), becomes fascinated by Robert – not only by his charm and talent, but also by his immense sadness. Knowing that Robert frequents online chat rooms, Elaine plays a dangerous game of deceit by spying on Robert, posing as a gay man. Soon, she gains Robert’s trust and learns of the horrible secret that he and her husband is having an affair. Sex, lies and instant messaging – the story takes on a bizarre twist of actions and consequences.

Clarkson (GOOD NIGHT, GOOD LUCK) is consistent with her body of excellent work. Here, she’s youthful and sexy as Elaine, a bored trophy wife who has a dark side to her. Her performance is complex, vulnerable yet vindictive at the same time. Scott (ROGER DODGER) is very good as the manipulative, bisexual producer. He preys on a young, fetching writer without an ounce of guilt and reservation. At the same time, he shows vulnerability – a protectiveness that is shielded by his conceit. But the show really belongs to Sarsgaard (JARHEAD), who has emerged as the actor to watch. His portrayal of Robert is intricate and nuanced, full of pain, regrets, guilt and a sizable dose of rage and bale.

The script by writer-director Lucas (based on his own play) is about these three characters who might not be what they seem. On the surface, they are very amiable people – nothing strange or disturbing about them. But deep down, they’re damaged and dangerously vulnerable. Robert is a tortured soul, and when push comes to shove, he would do anything to get what he wants. Jeffrey is the opposite of Robert – he is a ruthless businessman who won’t stop at getting what he wants; then again, he seems to truly care for other people, especially Robert. Is he falling in love with Robert, or is it all about sex? We don’t know. We may never know. But you can’t say Jeffrey is faking it. Clarkson has the most interesting role playing the conflicted Elaine. Driven by her awe and curiosity and compassion, Elaine digs a deeper and deeper hole for herself and everyone around her. Her deceit is every bit as dangerous and destructive as her husband’s; the thing is, she doesn’t quite know it. That’s what makes the story so interesting.

Lucas’s direction is crisp and direct, with some interesting camera work. He’s done well in matching the intriguing material with a unique visual style. At times, the film looks haunting and exhausting at the same time. Lucas also has the good sense of instilling humor and eroticism in the otherwise heavy story of deceit and betrayal. Granted, there’s really nothing incredibly epic about this story – no larger-than-life heroes or over-the-top villains. The ending also leaves one contemplating the real meaning. I’m not sure if I completely get it either. We might not really identify with the characters, but that’s not really the point. The film doesn’t ask us to empathize with them. THE DYING GAUL is simply a cautionary tale of human frailty.

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