One of the reasons I like being a member of Netflix is that I am able to see many obscure little films that are never shown anywhere outside art theaters or film festivals. Many are real dogs, but most are intriguing gems well worth the time, and because they come to me, I don't have to pay a lot of money or drive long distances in order to view them. The Dying Gaul is one such gem.
The basic plot of the film is deceivingly simple: A gay screenwriter has written a film about two men deeply in love - one of whom dies of AIDS. The screenplay is excellent, but a powerful Hollywood producer will not support the film unless the writer changes the lovers to heterosexuals. The writer, at first, resists because the screenplay is based upon his relationship with his own deceased lover, but is soon won over by the charismatic producer. As the revision proceeds, the young writer becomes a frequent visitor to the producer's home where he forms a relationship with the producer's wife and children.
The complex relationship that develops amongst the writer, the producer, and the wife is what forms the crux of this compelling character study. To elaborate any further as to what takes place in these relationships would spoil the film for anyone wishing to see it, but it isn't pretty. I found myself often questioning the actions and motives of the characters as they proceeded in their games of one-upmanship. If these characters accurately represent the powerful figures of the film world, I can understand why it is often described as dog-eat-dog. Of course, malevolent and self-centered people exist in all strata of life, but wealth and glamour probably add their own extra serving of evil.
Strong acting makes this film especially watchable. Patricia Clarkson as the enigmatic wife is enthralling. Campbell Scott as the self-satisfied producer fascinates as he oozes charm and influence. And Peter Sarsgaard as the young writer gives a complex performance as a man who quickly learns the ways of manipulation from experts.
This is not a happy movie, and there are some pretty raw sexual scenes, but these three characters certainly captivate and hold your interest from beginning to end.