The Dying Gaul (2005)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama  |   Release Date - Nov 4, 2005 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 101 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

"No one is going to see The Dying Gaul," says studio exec Jeffrey Tishop (Campbell Scott) to screenwriter Robert Sandrich (Peter Sarsgaard) early on in Craig Lucas' film of the same name, after Sandrich balks at changing the characters' sexual orientation in his brilliant but unmarketable script (called The Dying Gaul). That quip turned out to be prophetic about the performance of Lucas' actual film, which earned less than $350,000 despite the presence of three respected actors, with Patricia Clarkson, as Tishop's wife, functioning as the third in an incestuous trio of damaged souls. Given his recognition that audiences fear gay subject matter, Lucas surely anticipated this fate for his adaptation of his own play, which a handful of tiny distribution companies pooled their resources to release. But The Dying Gaul is worth seeing, to a point. It starts out auspiciously, satirizing Hollywood's tendency to neuter bold scripts for mass consumption, and getting much mileage from an idealistic gay screenwriter seduced into selling off his integrity and betraying the memory of his dead lover -- seduced both figuratively (by the Tishops' extravagant Malibu home, with its picturesque infinity pool) and literally (by closeted bisexual Tishop himself). The film remains interesting, but starts to stray, when it takes on the trappings of a thriller, entering this genre through the world of internet chat rooms (which are appropriate to the film's 1995 setting). The resulting cat-and-mouse game points events toward an abrupt and suspect conclusion, one that relies on the characters acting far more sinister, with far more inorganic motivations, than their prior development would suggest. For what it does right -- its French New Wave stylings, its haunting choral soundtrack, its ambitious intellectual themes, its honest soul-searching -- The Dying Gaul is worth a look. Just brace yourself for a lousy third act.