Director: Richard Eyre. UK/USA. 2008. 90mins.
Richard Eyre is fast becoming the new master of unhealthy obsession. After Judi Dench’s creepily predatory school teacher inNotes On A Scandal, it is now the turn of Liam Neeson to play a fool for love inThe Other Man.
Well-heeled literary adaptation mixes sleek psychodrama with Hitchcock-style suspense, but the somewhat misleading nature of the story tends to diminish its impact. The film may be based on a story by the esteemed Bernhard (The Reader) Schlink, but it feels more like a slightly classier version of an airport bestseller that passes the time and doesn’t completely satisfy. Intriguing elements and the cast should ensure middling commercial returns, although
it might find a warmer welcome on dvd release.
Neeson is successful web designer Peter, a man with a happy marriage to shoe designer Lisa (Laura Linney) and a lovely daughter in Abigail (Romola Garai). It is the evening of Lisa’s launch when the cracks in their perfect relationship appear. At dinner, Lisa asks if people can really stay together their whole lives and whether Peter ever wished he had been given the chance to sleep with someone else. The next morning she is gone. A voice-message from Ralph (Antonio Banderas) alerts Peter to the fact that there has been another man in Lisa’s life. He tracks him to Milan where the two men play both literal and metaphorical games of chess with each other and Peter pursues an almost masochistic desire for juicy details about the affair between Lisa and Ralph.
The Other Man sounds like a straightforward tale of a love triangle and a jealous husband. Eyre does everything to make us believe this with snapshot montages capturing the times Ralph and Lisa have spent together and a generous use of close-ups to capture every flicker of anger and anguish that passes over Peter’s face.
We subsequently learn that Ralph is not the man he has appeared to be and that in many respects the whole film has been leading us up the garden path. A confusing period of transition does lead to some interesting developments and closure, but the unexpected twist may leave some viewers feeling cheated. It is a testimony to Eyre’s skill as a director that we have never thought to question events, although the sudden close friendship between Peter and Ralph does take some swallowing.
Eyre secures some commanding performances with sterling supporting from Laura Linney and from Romola Garai as Peter’s concerned daughter. Neeson convincingly handles his character’s anger, but it is Banderas who steps out of his comfort zone, bringing old school charm of a Marcello Mastroianni to the role of a man who lives on his wits and on the power of his imagination to make the most of a mundane reality.
Rainmark Films Ltd
Ealing Studios International
Mary Beth O’Connor
Based on the short story by Bernhard Schlink