The Man from Elysian Fields
In desperation to support his family, a down-and-nearly-out writer turns to the world's oldest profession to try and make ends meet. The consequences aren't what you would expect.
The Man From Elysian Fields is truly a unique premise which grabs you from the beginning. Byron Tiller (Andy Garcia) was once an advertising career man but after authoring a novel, he throws it all away to follow his true calling as a writer. His loving wife Dena (Julianna Margulies) fully supports him, yet, for Byron, success as a writer remains an elusive dream. He can barely pay his family's bills. Just as Byron hits his lowest point, he meets Luther Fox (Mick Jagger), the owner of Elysian Fields, a discreet male escort service. Fox offers Byron ''temporary'' employment at his private club which caters to the needs of lonely women everywhere. Seeing no other option and desperate to provide for his family, Byron reluctantly accepts--and is immediately put to work escorting a beautiful and wealthy woman, Andrea Alcott (Olivia Williams), to the opera. One thing leads to another and sure enough, Byron is soon providing the full treatment. He also finds out she is married to one of his literary heroes, Tobias Alcott (James Coburn), who encourages his wife's dalliances since he is now too old. In fact, he's dying and through a twist of fate, Byron ends up collaborating with Alcott to rewrite his last book, while still ''servicing'' Andrea. Up to this point, the story is riveting but by the last third of the movie, it becomes muddled. It has a tough time finding a way to wrap it all up.
Elysian Fields employs an eclectic cast who, for the most part, do a nice job bringing out the best in the story. The film ultimately belongs to Garcia, who looks good carrying a feature film again--even if it's one on a smaller scale. First of all, it is refreshing to see a man put into the position where he has to become a prostitute to support his family, and Garcia plays this winningly. Byron is all thumbs when it comes to the art of seduction with a woman other than his wife, but he's undoubtedly immediately attracted to Andrea. From Garcia's eyes, you know he's going to succumb to the temptation. Yet, it's Garcia's scenes with veteran Coburn where the movie comes alive, as Byron's real passion is exposed. Coburn does a nice turn as the dying writer who still wants to produce the best possible material, even if he's beyond the ability to do so. Williams and Margulies do what they can with their roles, the former playing the cold Andrea with aplomb and the latter handling the chores as the beleaguered wife with a requisite amount of charm. Jagger as the Faustian Fox is admirable as a sexual predator who also has moments of vulnerability (apparently it's not just all rock and roll with this guy).
Elysian Fields was made more than a year ago and even with its top-notch cast, it still took awhile to get a U.S. distributor. Garcia may not be quite the draw he once was, but clearly that doesn't affect his dedication to his work behind and in front of the camera one bit. Acting as a producer of the film, Garcia cares about this highly original material and it doesn't matter to him whether the film is mainstream enough--he wants to tell this story. Director George Hickenlooper takes his inspiration from his star, focusing primarily on Byron and his desperation to be successful at something he loves to do. Is Byron selling his soul to the devil in order to get his big chance? That is certainly up for interpretation, but with all good stories, that's the fun of it. If the film only stuck to this principle for the entire movie, then there may not have been such difficulty in tying up the ending. First-time screenwriter Phillip Jayson Lasker does a great job setting everything up, but once Byron and Alcott write the book, the film drags on for another half hour or so trying to resolve Byron's dilemma. Also the subplot revolving around Fox and his No. 1 client (played by the lovely Anjelica Huston), whom he actually loves, seems sorely out of place and not fleshed out.
The Man From Elysian Fields is another independent film which manages to pique your curiosity and intellect, even if the ending doesn't live up to the rest of the film. Most importantly, it's good to see Andy Garcia large and in charge once again.