The Other Man
Running time 90 minutes
Written and directed by Richard Eyre
Starring Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Antonio Banderas, Romola Garai
Despite the gimlet eye of Richard Eyre, former director of England’s Royal National Theatre, and the top-echelon talents of an impressive cast, a dreary, disabled disaster called The Other Man drops dead at the starting gate. It’s been around for a few years, and the dust shows. Dissecting a case of unhealthy obsession with the same carefully wielded scalpel he used on Judi Dench as the predatory teacher in the far superior Notes on a Scandal, Mr. Eyre now tells the tale of Peter (Liam Neeson), the CEO of a successful software company, and his beautiful wife, Lisa (Laura Linney), a famous shoe designer, who mysteriously disappears after 25 years of marriage. Driven mad with jealousy and suspicion, Peter rummages through the personal files in his wife’s laptop and traces love letters from a man named Ralph (Antonio Banderas) to an email address in Italy. Peter tracks Ralph to Milan with the intent to kill, but instead engages the slick charmer in a series of metaphysical chess games, sending him false emails from Lisa’s computer, then ends up lending Ralph the money to fly to the glamorous Villa d’Este on Lake Como for a romantic weekend that proves to be anything but. In the ponderous events that follow, everyone hides a terrible secret, and with a stylized combination of Alfred Hitchcock and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Mr. Eyre piles on the twists and turns of dark obsession with an emotional intensity that seems deliberate and phony. The wild goose chase before we find out what really happened to Lisa just ain’t worth the effort. [Ed. note: Spoiler Alert!] Wouldn’t you know Ms. Linney is secretly dying of cancer? The embellishments and falsehoods of her illness, Peter’s unspoken love and Ralph’s pretense of being a rich international playboy (he is really only a janitor) add up to a movie that looks like a disarmingly simple love triangle, but gets bogged down in close-ups, dream sequences, snapshot montages of the past and confusing transitions that leave the viewer feeling manipulated for no reason.
Mr. Neeson and Ms. Linney rarely make a false move; Mr. Banderas gives a surprising performance as a bogus Latin Lothario who lives by his wits, recalling a young Marcello Mastroianni in his salad days; and once again, I have been electrified by Romola Garai, as Peter’s estranged but concerned daughter and the voice of reason, fearing for her father’s sanity. What a beautiful and accomplished actress, and what a range! You might remember her as the younger sister who wrecked so many lives in Atonement; she stole every scene. She does the same thing here, leaving everyone around her without a compass. Under the strain, the actors work up a sweat to sustain interest, but their involvement in their roles is only skin deep. The themes of desire, loss, forgiveness and adultery, both real and imagined, are framed without tension, leaving a fine cast to play cardboard figures in a board game. If they don’t care how it all comes out, why should we?