When you call your movie "The Other Man," there's no point in putting off the eventual discovery of the other man. And when you put Antonio Banderas in your opening credits, there's no point in pretending someone else might be the other man.
Directed by Richard Eyre, the film only gets one right. It's just a handful of minutes before loving husband Peter (Liam Neeson) uncovers a racy email sent to his wife Lisa (Laura Linney) by a mysterious "Ralph." After all, we know what's coming, so why put it off?
But Eyre, co-writing with Charles Wood (and adapting the short story by Bernhard Schlink), thinks it'd be jumping into things too quickly to lead Peter to Banderas' character, even though we're waiting impatiently for such a moment. We're tossed a red herring involving Lisa's co-worker, but it's just buying time - the movie doesn't really kick into gear until Peter scoots off to Italy to confront Banderas' Ralph (mercifully pronounced "Rafe" - can you imagine Banderas playing a "Ralph"?).
And yet, well, even when it kicks in, it never kicks in. "The Other Man" is a slow-burn movie where the burners are set too low to matter. Peter befriends Ralph but hides his true identity, hoping to catch the swarthy lover in some sort of verbal trap. Limited on imagination, the script sets up much of this confrontation in that rusty old parallel of a literal chess match between the two - they're constantly challenging each other to the game, sizing each other up, and we're supposed to read into their every twitch, looking for hints of who knows what about whom.
The actors handle all of this decently enough, playing at different volumes, making for a nice contrast. Banderas, as expected, is suave and confident, but without becoming a one-note type; his love for Lisa runs deep and true. Neeson, meanwhile, allows his character to explode into jealous rages, which leaves us wondering just how far he's going to take things. Is he just wanting to understand this other man, or is he out for blood?
(Somewhere in the middle of all this, Romala Garai has a nice role as Peter and Lisa's daughter, worried about her dad's growing rage. As a subplot, it's a bit underwritten, but Garai works the character with precision.)
Sadly, the movie's merely biding its time until a third act revelation that sadly makes the story all about its surprises instead of its characters. It's one of those twists for twists' sake, designed to pull the rug out from under us. Once the facts are revealed, we discover a new depth to the characters and their motives - but wouldn't the film be much more emotionally effective, the characters much more resonant, had we known all the facts from the start? Moving the revelation to the beginning, where it belongs, would've turned the movie into a sharp character study and a smart meditation on... well, to tell you would be to give it all away, so I'll just say there's plenty of emotional heft that could've fit nicely here, had the script not opted instead to make the whole thing a big "gotcha!" experience.
With "Notes on a Scandal" and "Iris," Eyre has learned how to pull solid performances and delicate character detail out of thin stories. It's a talent he repeats here, only this time his work is lost underneath the contrivances of the screenplay and its smarter-than-you attitudes. "The Other Man" is a good character study lost in the haze of bad thriller gimmickry.
Video & Audio
No issues are present in this 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which makes good use of the film's dark color schemes. Black levels are sharp, as is detail, gorgeously showing off the Italian setting.
For the soundtrack, pick between Dolby 5.1 and 2.0. Both mixes are just fine, nothing fancy, with music never interfering with the clear dialogue. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
Richard Eyre covers all the bases in his commentary track, but the whole thing's so very dry, Eyre monotoning his way through making-of memories.
Five interviews (24:09 total; 1.78:1 anamorphic) feature Neeson, Banderas, Linney, Garai, and Eyre. It's standard EPK fare, plenty of discussion about character, plot, what it's like working with everyone, how the project got started, etc., etc. There's some interesting stuff tossed into the mix, but the blandness to the set-up nearly cancels it out.
The film's trailer (1:46; 2.40:1 anamorphic) rounds out the disc.
There's enough to the performances to please fans of the cast, but the clumsy, unnecessarily sly screenplay will leave those same fans frustrated. Rent It.