A failed novelist's inability to pay the bills strains relations with his wife and leads him to work at an escort service where he becomes entwined with a wealthy woman whose husband is a successful writer.
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Raymond De Felitta
Byron Tiller, happily married with a young child, is a writer whose last novel has ended up in the remainder bins. Down on his luck and struggling to make ends meet, he keeps bashing away, refusing to admit that perhaps he is not that good. One day, at wit's end and feeling sorry for himself, he meets someone who has actually read his book: a rather elegant looking Englishman who introduces himself as Luther Fox. Luther runs an escort agency Elysian Fields, which provides extremely wealthy women with attractive, intelligent dates. Desperate for any job- and Luther guarantees good pay and convinces him that it can be only temporary -Byron reluctantly agrees, keeping the whole thing hidden from his wife. He soon finds himself face-to-face with an extremely attractive woman, whose aging husband is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist grappling with a novel that may be his last. Before long, Byron finds himself immersed in a world that he finds almost impossible to believe and even harder to... Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Among its myriad unique qualities, `The Man From Elysian Fields' portrays Southern California not as the traditional sun-drenched paradise familiar to us from postcards and movies, but rather as a dank, drizzly, depressing locale, a perfect backdrop for the sad little tale the filmmakers are telling.
And what a strange little tale it turns out to be. Andy Garcia, in one of his best screen performances to date, stars as Byron Tiller, a generally unsuccessful novelist who finds himself so low on funds that he is literally unable to support the wife and child he loves so dearly. Driven by desperation, Byron reluctantly agrees to sell his services as an `escort' for lonely women. His very first client turns out to be the lovely young wife of a dying novelist who exploits Byron not only for his sexual prowess but for his skills as a writer, devising a scheme to get him to assist her husband in completing his final work (given his incapacitated state, the novelist and his wife have an arrangement that she is free to seek male companionship from an escort service).
With its highly original and provocative storyline, `The Man From Elysian Fields' exerts an almost hypnotic pull on its audience, seductively drawing us into the lives and the complex relationships of its numerous characters. Even though we may question the credibility of Byron's decision (after all, were there NO other options for employment that he could come up with?), the depth and richness of Garcia's performance brush all such quibbles aside. He makes Byron into such a sympathetic figure that we can't help but follow him along on his journey. Garcia is aided immeasurably by the tone of elegiac sadness that permeates the film, as well as by the superb performances from Julianna Margulies, Olivia Williams and the late, great James Coburn, whose valedictory performance this turned out to be. With his gnarled hands and grizzled face, Coburn strikes right at the heart of what it means for a man of genius to be in the final throes of his life, terrified of losing his creative powers at the end and desperate to leave behind an untarnished image when he's gone. Watching the deceased Coburn delivering a speech about impending death carries with it an eerie prescience that only enriches the melancholic tone of the work.
Williams gives a beautiful performance as his young wife genuinely in love with a man who can no longer return that love on any but the most spiritual level. Margulies is poignant as Byron's devoted but naïve spouse whose world comes crashing down around her the moment she discovers the man she married is not the man she thought he was. Indeed, of the performers, only Mick Jagger, as the head of the escort company (Elysian Fields) who starts Byron on his rode to personal disaster, falls short of his potential. Though not bad as an actor, Jagger doesn't seem to have the naturalness in front of the camera and the comfortability factor necessary for a truly first-rate performance.
`The Man From Elysian Fields' is, in many ways, a classic morality tale in the grand old Faustian tradition, as Byron, willing to sell his soul for temporal gain, discovers that the compromising of one's principles is the first step toward ruination and a life spent regretting the loss of what one holds most dear. Even though this Faust deludes himself into thinking he is sacrificing his honor and integrity to benefit those he loves rather than himself, it turns out to be a fool's bargain anyway, partly because what he is giving up is the very thing he wants most desperately to retain.
Written by Philip Jayson Lasker and directed by George Hickenlooper, `The Man From Elysian Fields' is a lyrical, beautifully modulated work that haunts the viewer with its insight and power long after the final credits have rolled by.
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