Edge

film review: The Man from Elysian Fields **

Andy Garcia’s voice is like RuPaul’s nails on a chalkboard. ER dropout Julianna Margulies is about as much fun as an Al Gore speaking engagement. The music in the film steals its style from old Dragnet episodes and 1930s gangster movie soundtracks. So The Man From Elysian Fields is a little flawed; yet, it manages to survive these downfalls by shining in other areas.

Despite being one of the more annoying movies this year, Elysian Fields is saved by some strong performances from Mick Jagger and James Coburn, and an interesting screenplay. A shocking twist towards the end reigns in your attention, but the interior decorating of the movie theater is more fun to look at than the middle portion of this film.

Elysian Fields revolves around a struggling writer, Byron (Garcia), who needs money to support his wife (Margulies) and a 2-year-old son. When Byron’s writing doesn’t sell, he’s forced to take a job at Elysian Fields, a male escort company run by Jagger’s character, Luther. Byron’s first client is the wife of a famous novelist named Tobias Allcott (Coburn).

At first, Byron is reluctant to take the job, due to the emotional repercussions of cheating on his wife. He agrees only when Luther assures him that dates will not go any further than accompanying clients to operas and around town. Of course, Byron ends up sleeping with the girl on their second date, with the odd blessing of the dying Tobias.

When Tobias entrusts Byron to read his just-finished novel, he’s afraid to tell the Pulitzer Prize winner that his latest work is utter garbage. Byron ends up helping him rewrite it, a huge break in his fledgling career.

The meaty conflict arises between Byron’s obligation to be honest with his wife and the prurience to improve his career. It’s hard to illicit sympathy for Byron though, because he doesn’t just slip up and have a single affair. He continues to lie to his wife, and leave her at home every night with their son, while he goes to the Allcott house to score like a champ.

The middle of the film, which deals with Byron’s struggle between his family and the book, boggles down the rest of the movie. The beginning, where Byron fails as a writer and signs on with Luther, is pretty entertaining. The last portion of the film is also adequate, although the ultimate conclusion is a dwindling let down.

Overall, the plot of the film is original, despite the heavily tapped out clichEd struggling writer story. The characters are unique, and the dialogue is, at times, excellent.

Garcia (The Untouchables) is decent as the lead, although when his accent pops up it is just bothersome. It’s like talking to a person for the first time, and not realizing that they are from Boston. Then suddenly a word with the “ar” sound sneaks in to the conversation and leaves your mind in a web of confusion.

Despite lacking an irritable accent, Margulies is much worse. She puts no feeling into her role, which should be the most emotional of the bunch.

Surprisingly, Jagger gives the best performance, although he’s limited to showing up in bars wearing fashionable suits. Not much of a stretch there.

Then there’s the usually dependable Coburn, who is once again good as the dying author. He is in a few funny scenes with Garcia, and also a few serious ones.

Overall, Elysian Fields should have had lots more punch than the stagnant product that’s currently in theatres. Given the proper cast, better music and a visually competent director, the screenplay would have structured a very memorable film.

Shawn Wines can be reached at shawnwines@aol.com.

October 15, 2002

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