It takes a particularly shoddy film to waste the acting efforts of Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, and Antonio Banderas. Here are three gifted, diverse performers set loose within exotic European locations with a nice, bloodied piece of melodrama to feast upon, and "The Other Man" still falls apart. Rather quickly too. A confused, perhaps unfinished tale of infidelity and unlikely companionship, the picture is scripted to head into a hundred different directions of conflict and revelation, only director Richard Eyre can't navigate the turns, paring down "Other Man" to an uneventful 80-minute soap opera, lacking sufficient suds.
A software executive, Peter (Liam Neeson) is married to Lisa (Laura Linney), a popular shoe designer with a job that sends her around the world. Secure in his marriage, Peter is thrown for loop when Lisa vanishes, leaving behind her laptop and cell phone. Investigating her computer files, Peter finds sexually charged photographs featuring Lisa and a mystery man. Tracking this unknown lover down in Italy, Peter inadvertently befriends his foe, Ralph (Antonio Banderas), bonding over games of chess and discussions of love. As Peter grows frustrated with the situation, freaking out his daughter (Romola Garai) in the process, he moves to reveal Ralph for the man that he truly is, not the glamorous image used to lure Lisa away.
Sexual impropriety is not a new subject for Eyre to examine, having previously directed the 2006 drama "Notes on a Scandal" to widespread acclaim. "The Other Man" presents a particular challenge for the filmmaker, working to bend Bernhard Schlink's ("The Reader') short story into a suitable pretzel to use as inspiration for the feature film. The picture provides a tantalizing premise open to premiere cinematic highs and lows, with plenty of obsession and fury to devour as the story posits two men in love with the same women, yet each in possession of secrets that could topple entire lives if played incorrectly.
The game of chess is a rather clumsy symbol of competition for Ralph and Peter, but Eyre is content with the battle of the minds, using the pawns to ease the men into a tentative bond. The game allows Peter an opportunity to study Ralph up close, to find out what kind of man pulled his wife away without a sound for an unspeakable amount of time. The suspense is handled well by Eyre, who enjoys observing Peter wind himself into a tornado of spousal rage, but the narrative is offered in unwelcome clumps. Having the general storytelling blindness that accompanies a film passed through several hands in the editing room, "Other Man" opens commandingly, but quickly trails off into a fine mist of technical proficiency and emotional perplexity. Characters start to leap around the story without motivation, revelations are stumbled upon rather than pronounced, and a critical third act twist is difficult to process, perhaps even believe.
The picture seems thrown together rather than edited, becoming more about specific scenes than a needed sense of riveting singular movement. The indecision dampens the performances, isolating their gruff flamboyancy to a point of unintentional hilarity, possibly even introducing a new film geek catchphrase with Peter's volcanic disapproval of Ralph's "Gucci loafers!"
Audio & Visual:
DVD Talk was only provided with a heavily watermarked DVD-R screener for review.
Again, Ralph and Peter are forced to deal with the reality of Lisa's disappearance in the final act of the film, which takes a sympathetic turn without the proper character submersion needed to establish such a delicate balance of power. While the film closes on a rather baffling note, "The Other Man" as a whole isn't confusing, but it's strangely inhospitable, perhaps better appreciated three margaritas into a Sunday afternoon Lifetime film festival than a critical Friday night rental.
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