22 February 2004 | RandomTask-AP
Superb acting defeated by overstatement
The road to hell is always paved with good intentions. It is the axiom pitfall that catches so many; including Andy Garcia's character, Byron Tiller, in `The Man from Elesian Fields'. Having thrown years into a failed novel, Byron grows increasingly desperate to make ends meet for his family and find success. Compromising himself for what he needs, he finds an easy answer in the employ of Elesian Fields, a male escort service operated by Luther Fox (Mik Jagger). It is a classically executed set-up, but because the script has so much to say before the final fade out, it staggers like a buss boy who has picked up too many dishes from too many tables.
After the proper cajoling and encouraging, Luther sets Byron up on his first assignment with the beautiful wife of a renowned multi-Pulitzer writer. Byron doesn't go easily into this abyss. He won't escort Andrea (Olivia Williams) beyond her limo door after an opera the first night and is greatly relieved to return home to his wife Dena (Juliana Margulies). The second date, however, progresses until the date and escort have their lovemaking interrupted by a visit from Andrea's elderly and approving husband, Tobias (James Coburn). Tobias extends an invitation for Byron to work with him on revising his last book. Byron soon finds himself leading the dizzying life of working for Luther, Andrea and Tobias while never letting Dena know about his escort duties with Andrea.
The first hour of the film is tightly written and gracefully proceeds with the steady and beautiful cinematography of Kramer Morgenthau. After the writers start exchanging ideas, the pace of the film picks up considerably. Conversation becomes swept aside in montages and assumptions. Even the music, subtle and appropriate in the first half draws unnecessary attention in the second half. The situation is familiar. Betrayed couples are as old as time. Struggling writers are found throughout cinema. The thing that separates them is the individual characters and interaction. Those and the heartfelt dialog get lost in bringing the story to where it is expected to end to make the author's statement.
Far from poor, but never really convincing, `Elesian Fields' is best noted for the acting it harbors. James Coburn plays a dying artist with dignity and is smart enough to let his poise crumble from time to time. Mik Jagger is wonderfully understated as the dispenser of temptation and his moments of disappointment with Anjelica Huston round out an award-worthy performance. Andy Garcia believably balances an quiet man whose temper gets the best of him now and again. Only Juliana Margulies is underused. It's unfortunate that so much talent could not overcome the other more intrinsic weaknesses.