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The Man From Elysian Fields

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Man From Elysian Fields

Starring: Andy Garcia, Mick Jagger
Director: George Hickenlooper
Rated: R
RunTime: 106 Minutes
Release Date: October 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: James Coburn, Julianna Margulies, Olivia Williams, Michael Des Barres, Xander Berkeley

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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

In one scene of this literate, witty and ironic film, a struggling writer tells an old pro at the game (one who has lost his touch) that his latest manuscript is a no-go. Why? The older man, eager to write about the plight of exploited populations, is recreating the lives of ancient Roman slaves. Nobody can relate to that. Use a group exploited in the present day if you want readers to identify with the novel, insists his new adviser. The same question can be asked about George Hickenlooper's movie, "The Man From Elysian Fields," whose subjects are a novelist whose first published work is not selling, whose new manuscript is turned down flat, and who ends up working in tandem with a Pulitzer-prize-winning author. Can the moviegoing public identify with these characters? Absolutely, because what counts is not what they do for a living. Emotional truths abound. Consider today's economy, for example: what does a married couple do to stay happily together when at the brink of poverty? What does a loving wife of a successful, much older man do, when her husband is terminally ill and unable to take her out or to perform some of the loving services a young woman should expect of her spouse? What ennobles this project is that the romantic situations are not the stuff of soap opera but sincerely felt, the ensemble performing in this story act exquisitely, the writing loaded with bon mots and the plot suffused with ironies and one or two wholly unexpected surprises.

Director Hickenlooper ("The Big Brass Ring") tells his story in a sense through the eyes of Luther Fox, whose role is performed against type by Mick Jagger. Luther Fox is the owner of an escort service, the type of place that fills the full-page ads in the Yellow Pages, providing companionship and more for lonely, rich women. When Fox meets Byron Tiller (Andy Garcia), a writer whose last novel has been marked down from $25 to $3.95 and still lies dormant in the remainder bin of a Pasadena book emporium, he talks him into become a stud-for-hire, suggesting that the profession will pay enough to maintain his wife, Dena (Julianna Margulies) and son Nathaniel. His first date proves both his salvation and his undoing, as he becomes the regular escort of Andrea Allcott (Olivia Williams,) wife of a dying, highly-successful writer, Tobias Allcott (James Coburn). By doing so, he raises the money he needs, becomes both at once a mentor and a student to Tobias, and puts his own marriage at great risk.

Hickenlooper, using Philip Jayson Lasker's screenplay, tells us quite a bit about the life of a gigolo working for an upscale company, such as how the men get the wardrobes they need for nights at the opera, how they see themselves in contrast to the low-level streetwalkers, what they think of their clients and, even more important, what the clients really think of these studs. In one telling scene, the wealthy Jennifer Adler (Anjelica Huston), who has been "dating" the owner of the company himself, Luther Fox (who appropriately is a lonely guy himself), tells him exactly what she thinks of his marriage proposal. A burnt-out case who has fallen in love with his client, Luther can't get no satisfaction.

The is the sort of quirky, triangulated romance that would appeal to an audience of literate people who might be curious about the ins and outs of the escort business, who can appreciate characters, each with his or own unique qualities. There are no stereotypes here except perhaps the role inhabited by Michael Des Barres as Greg, a gray-haired, good-looking fellow who considers his job cynically and has little respect for the women who request his services. The conclusion is ambiguous, as real life so often is, our hearts going out to the struggling Byron Tiller who has become sadder and wiser, learning to use his own emotional reactions to get back into the literary marker. Andy Garcia is superb, appearing in virtually every scene, in a restrained performance appropriate to a call man who has become alienated from his calling.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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