"No one goes to the movies to have a bad time or to learn anything." – Jeffrey Tishop (Campbell Scott), The Dying Gaul
Acclaimed playwright Craig Lucas ("Prelude To A Kiss") makes his feature film debut adapting The Dying Gaul for the screen and directing the incendiary trio of Peter Sarsgaard, Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson. A venomous drama that jabs mid-Nineties Hollywood while using it as a backdrop for a malicious little thriller, The Dying Gaul is explosive, dense entertainment that surprises you in ways you don't see coming.
Sarsgaard stars as grieving screenwriter Robert Sandrich, whose screenplay (which serves as the film's title) has just crossed the desk of hotshot executive Jeffrey Tishop (Scott) – Jeffrey's interested in the script, save for the narrative dealing with a homosexual relationship. If Robert acquiesces and makes his homosexual couple straight, Jeffrey will pay a million dollars for The Dying Gaul. Along the way, Robert becomes enmeshed in an increasingly uncertain relationship with both Jeffrey and his wife, former screenwriter Elaine (Clarkson), which builds to a devastating conclusion.
There's much more to discuss, of course, not the least of which is Lucas' assured screenplay that deftly plays with expectations, but with The Dying Gaul, the less you know going in, the more you can appreciate the tightening of the psychological screws – the trio of main characters are finely wrought, thanks to deeply felt, wonderfully live-wire performances from Sarsgaard, Clarkson and Scott. Each has a moment or two to shine, be it Sarsgaard's wounded hallucinations, Clarkson's wrenching confrontations or Scott's oily sadism.
Craig Lucas' The Dying Gaul is spiky, poignant and utterly compelling – a subtle damnation of Hollywood's traditional ways yet shot through with a progressive tweak of thriller conventions, it's a film that will haunt you long after its shattering finale.
Presented with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, The Dying Gaul looks fairly sharp, save for a few flecks and instances of dirt on the otherwise defect-free image. Bobby Bukowski's evocative cinematography looks gorgeous here.
A talky affair, The Dying Gaul doesn't make much use of the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack included, but Steve Reich's mournful score does a nice job of filling in around Lucas' piercing dialogue. English subtitles are also included.
While it would've been nice to have Lucas and any member of the cast sit for a commentary track, Sony doles out a few supplements that leave you wanting more: a six minute, 15 second alternate ending which dilutes the impact of the theatrical ending, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, is included as are three deleted scenes, playable separately in non-anamorphic widescreen. Trailers for Where The Truth Lies, The Confessor, Chasing Ghosts, The Tenants and Saint Ralph round out the disc.
A minor masterpiece of mood, tone and acting, The Dying Gaul is a subtle stunner that lingers long after the final frames fade. Sarsgaard, Clarkson and Scott deliver scorching performances that elevate Craig Lucas' work into something unforgettable. Highly recommended.