Other Man, The

Four good actors (Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Antonio Banderas, and Romola Gari) are wasted in Richard Eyre's disappointing marital drama, “The Other Man,” based on a short story by Bernhard Schlink, better known as the author of “The Reader.”

 

Amorphous and diffuse, “Other Man” is neither effective as an anatomy of a troubled marriage nor as a Hitchcockian thriller in which a married woman suddenly goes missing, leaving her long-time husband clueless and perplexed.  It's too bad that Eyre, whose last picture was the well-acted “Notes on a Scandal,” doesn't follow through completely (or consistently) the noir elements of his narrative as a study of betrayal, obsession, and revenge.

 

“Other Man” received its world premiere last year, at the 2008 Berlin Film Fest, and is now (a year later) released in the U.S., but I doubt that many viewers, even fans of Neeson and Linney, will see the picture in the theater.

 

The premise is intriguing enough to command our attention in the first reel.   Peter (Neeson), the CEO of a computer software company, has been married to Lisa (Linney), a shoe designer, for over 20 years when she suddenly disappears from his life. A dual-career couple, Lisa and Peter have seemingly a good life. They live near Cambridge, the site of the profitable company Peter founded and runs, and Lisa is successful as a designer of couturier shoes.  Family life, though, is another story. Their daughter Abigail (Romola Gari), who has a strained relationship with her father, lives with boyfriend George, a stonemason working on Ely cathedral where Abigail is an assistant in the bookshop.

 

After Lisa is gone, Peter searches through her things and finds a note by her, placed in a pair of red shoes, which reads “Lake Como.”  Obviously the note has been put there for him to read, even if it means nothing to him, as he’s never been to the famous lake.

 

Daughter Abigail proves to be of no help either; moreover, she resents his questioning of her. Peter tries “Lake Como” as the password needed for a file denied him on Lisa’s laptop, and sure enough photographs are revealed of Lisa and another man.  He also finds e-mails from a man called Ralph who has apparently been Lisa’s lover in the past and is now trying to rekindle their relationship. 

 

With the help of an associate, Peter tracks down Ralph (Antonio Banderas), who lives in Milan.  Peter responds to the e-mail as if he was Lisa, travels to Italy, and develops a friendship with Ralph.  The two men play chess together, exchange tall stories, and so on, while Peter continues to hide his identity.

 

Ralph pretends to be a self-assured businessman, but in reality, he is the janitor of the apartment complex where he lives.  Gradually the love affair of Ralph and Lisa is revealed in detail, how they met in Milan where Lisa travelled for work, and the significance of Lake Como where their affair blossomed.

 

Things change, when Abigail, worried about her father, follows him to Milan, and is horrified to realize that he's been writing intense e-mails to Ralph, encouraging him to think that Lisa wants to see him in London.  Abigail pleads with Peter to tell Ralph the truth, but he refuses.  Angry and exasperated, Abigail fears for her father’s mental stability.

 

Then Ralph receives another email, sent from Lisa’s laptop, inviting him to meet at the Villa D’Este on Lake Como.  Ralph, encouraged by the e-mails from “Lisa” decides to give a party for her in London, though he has no cash. Peter gives Ralph the cash to finance the trip to the Villa D’Este and the party in London. Ralph arrives at the Villa D’Este expecting a “second honeymoon” with Lisa, only to find Peter waiting alone for him in the restaurant.

 

No more details can be disclosed from that point on without spoiling the fun.  Suffice is to say that the last reel, in which all the problems are neatly resolved, lacks credibility even by movie standards.  Complicating matters are Peter's reveries about his wife, and flashbacks that are not always inserted properly.   By the end of this manipulative and confused film, I felt disappointed and cheated.  It's one thing to play with or against audiences' expectations; it's another when a director like Eyre violates them because he doesn't know what he is doing, or what his movie is about.

 

Considering the calibre of the cast and the actors' familiarity with each other, the performances are just decent but not spectacular. Richard Eyre had previously directed Liam Neeson and Laura Linney as a married couple in “The Crucible” on Broadway, and the two Oscar-nominated thespians have played husband and wife before, in Bill Condon’s “Kinsey.”  However, you can't blame the actors for the flaws of the film, which changes tone too frequently, with the actors asked to behave in inexplicable ways by any standards of rational behavior.