The movie opens with fledgling screenwriter Robert (Peter Sarsgaard) negotiating the sale of his deeply personal script, entitled "The Dying Gaul," to Jeffrey (Campbell Scott), a suave and powerful movie executive single-minded about securing the rights to the potential film. One crucial modification, however, is that the script's central couple of homosexual males would become a heterosexual man and woman. The adjustment, according to Jeffrey, would make the movie much more sellable to mainstream moviegoers. Because the script is based on his lover who recently died of AIDS, Robert vehemently refuses to make the change. He capitulates, nonetheless, when Robert's offer reaches $1 million.
Complications arise when Jeffrey, who is bisexual, seduces Robert into having a secret affair. By this time, Robert has befriended Jeffrey's affable wife Elaine (Patricia Clarkson), who, as a former screenwriter herself, deeply empathizes with Robert's artistic dilemma and believes in the integrity of the original script. Fascinated by Robert and driven to learn more about him, Elaine assumes the online identity of "ArchAngel" and visits an Internet chat room that she knows to be one of Robert's favorites. It is through a series of instant messages with Robert that she inadvertently learns about his affair with Jeffrey. This discovery, of course, sets off a chain of tragedies that--while far from predictable--are somewhat illogical.
In his directorial debut, established playwright Craig Lucas tackles some very difficult subject matter in "The Dying Gaul." Portraying the complex human emotions of bereavement, guilt and vengefulness without reverting to cliches, Lucas' film aims high in its seeming goal to challenge audience expectations. Moreover, Sarsgaard, Scott and Clarkson all lend multidimensionality to characters that could have easily rang hollow or flat. Unfortunately, these filmic attributes are undermined by a denouement whose inconsistency with the rest of "The Dying Gaul," combined with unclear plot elements essential to the story's finale, are likely to leave many viewers unfulfilled. Starring Peter Sarsgaard, Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson. Directed and written by Craig Lucas. Produced by Campbell Scott and George VanBuskirk. A Strand release. Drama/Psychological Thriller. Rated R for strong sexual content and language. Running time: 105 min