The Dying Gaul

The Dying Gaul


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

One of the first question raised in The Dying Gaul is what the title is about. The statue in the Capitoline Museums; the classic image of a man facing up to his own death; the name of a screenplay submitted by Peter Sarsgaard's earnest young writer Robert to movie company executive Jeffrey (Campbell Scott).

"Films like this don't sell", Jeffrey warns him; he's probably right, and that probably explains the low audience turnout for a film which deserves a lot more attention. But that's partly this film's own fault. In telling its story as it does, it begins by disguising itself as a different sort of film altogether. We've all seen half a dozen films about the film industry in which talented newcomers see their work butchered by a heartless system. It's old news. Thankfully, The Dying Gaul turns out to be something else altogether.

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The transfer from stage to screen is always a difficult one, and this one-time Broadway hit does feel a bit stagey in places, but this has largely been compensated for by excellent use of space and light, the locations making an impact which deepens the character of the film. Unfortunately, devices which were necessary in a theatrical setting seem more contrived in a film, yet overall it was probably a wise choice to retain them and hence maintain the fine pacing of the original. Some things work better in this context: the film does a great job of making computer chat room conversations visually engaging and expressing the tension which the characters experience through them without restricting us to looking at words on a screen.

The real impact of The Dying Gaul, however, comes from the acting. Each of the three leads - Sarsgaard, Scott, and Patricia Clarkson as Jeffrey's wife Elaine - brings a depth to the performance which enables us to feel for them despite the awful things they do, and none of those things seem entirely unjustified. Robert is wracked by survivor's guilt after the death of his partner; Jeffrey is in the habit of exploiting everyone he meets, yet this masks a vulnerability he has never acknowledged; and Elaine, swaying between playfulness, shock, vengefulness and generosity, finds herself as much a prisoner of events as anyone else, despite her bold attempts to gain the upper hand.

It's a simple but powerful story about human relationships which deftly sidesteps political correctness in favour of something ugly and sympathetic and real. If you're not prepared to engage with it on this level, don't bother. It doesn't contain the explicit sex which some viewers hoped for and it doesn't aspire to be political. But if you'll let it, it'll give you something more.

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2007
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The Dying Gaul packshot
A recently bereaved screenwriter struggles to get his film produced without too many compromises, but personal compromises can be much more dangerous.
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Director: Craig Lucas

Writer: Craig Lucas

Starring: Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Campbell Scott

Year: 2005

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: US

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