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Man From Elysian Fields, The
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
As The Man From Elysian Fields began, I thought I might enjoy it from the perspective of a writer. At the film's center is a rather tragic story of a failed writer, and the desperation that afflicts him and compels him toward a kind of Faustian bargain. I can understand some of the frustrations and aggravations of the writer's life. Unfortunately, what the film has to say about writing is curiously simplistic, as if it were written not by a writer but someone wishing he were a writer.
That fault wouldn't be such a big deal if the film weren't wholly entrenched in all things writerly. Andy Garcia plays Byron Tiller, a failed novelist whose single published work is a now-on-bargain-tables hardcover thriller with a ridiculous premise. Critics loved the book, but the public has turned its collective back on poor Byron, and now he's struggling to find purpose and—more important—money to support his modest existence and loving family. Despite his loving and supportive wife Dena (Julianna Margulies), Byron finds himself drawn to the enigmatic Luther Fox (Mick Jagger), who runs an escort agency called Elysian Fields. One thing leads to another, and Byron is suddenly in the sack with elegant and rich Andrea Allcot (Olivia Williams), wife of Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tobias Allcot (James Coburn), who is one of Byron's idols. And soon Byron is involved in the creation of Allcot's final masterpiece, typing madly to the detriment of his own family life.
As much as I liked elements of The Man From Elysian Fields, its insistence on painting its main character—and his writing life—in broad, sloppy strokes became annoying. Why is Byron's editor a bald-faced caricature of a real-world editor? Why is Byron sure that his book is a failure just because of its appearance in the bargain bin, where even the world's greatest writers fall from time to time? Why do all of Byron's conversations with Tobias reek of naiveté? I kept thinking, These aren't writers, these are actors tossing lines that couldn't possibly have been written by an actual writer.
Still, I liked a lot about this movie. The chemistry between the characters is terrific, and the performances are uniformly fine. Mick Jagger, in particular, is surprisingly good in an emotionally affecting role, and he even gets the movie's best scene, across a table from Angelica Huston. And the film has a contagious energy and tone—until the end, when it starts getting unnecessarily tragic and downbeat.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Columbia TriStar presents The Man From Elysian Fields in a mediocre anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. Although the film boasts a level of detail that is watchable, overall the transfer is by turns soft, hazy, grainy, flat, and dirty. Blacks aren't particularly deep. Colors are rich, but I noticed some bleeding. I also noticed mild edge haloing. Background and shadow detail are wanting. This transfer lacks definition and depth.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Digital 5.0 track is fairly active and rich across the front, but this isn't an active mix in the rear of your room. Surround speakers are devoted to ambient noise, and that's about it. Dialog is clear and natural, and the music is particularly rich.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The only supplement worth mentioning is a fairly lively Audio Commentary by director George Hickenlooper, actor Andy Garcia, and writer Philip Jayson Lasker. They speak of the usual matters—inspirations, origins, behind-the-scenes minutia—and they have a fun rapport, occasionally bursting into laughter. They spend a lot of time talking about the film's budgetary constraints and how they worked around them. I came away from the commentary with an appreciation for the cinematography, in particular.
There are also Filmographies, TV Spots, and Trailers for this film, Enigma, and Punch-Drunk Love—a personal favorite.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
The Man From Elysian Fields is worth renting, as long as you can get past some simplistic notions about writing and publishing. There's only one noteworthy extra, and the video quality is only average.