Man From Elysian Fields, The

Rated: R
Stars: Andy Garcia, James Coburn, Mick Jagger, Julianna Margulies, Anjelica Huston, Olivia Williams
Director: George Hickenlooper
Screenwriter: Phil Lasker

Sharply written and perfectly acted, this drama is a welcome find in this year of babbling sequels and action behemoths. There’s a nice part for James Coburn, his final film before his death and a rather terrific one for rocker Mick Jagger.

Andy Garcia plays former ad executive turned novelist Byron Tiller who finds that his works are a little too far-fetched for publishers and the public alike. Although his first work called Hitler’s Child garnered some good reviews, it quickly ended up in the clearance bins at book stores and his latest tome, symbolically involving migrant workers, has no takers. His old boss won’t rehire him and even his father-in-law hates his guts and won’t lend him a dime. He becomes increasingly desperate to support his fiercely loving wife Dena (Julianna Marguiles) and young son Nathaniel.

Enter Luther Fox (Mick Jagger), an ultra suave and impeccably dressed mystery man who has an office down the hall from Byron. Luther runs an escort service called Elysian Fields whose clients are all rich and lonely women. He sees in Byron good potential for the role of male escort; Byron’s attractive, well educated and well spoken. But, happily married and loyal, Byron resists Luther’s job offer. In time, however, he comes to feel that he has no alternatives. The script takes the time to develop Byron’s desperation making the decision a difficult yet believable one. Lucky for Byron, Luther has given him a perfect matchup for his first time out, not only is the woman (Olivia Williams as Andrea), young and beautiful but her husband is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, who just so happens to be Byron’s very own literary hero, the prolific and quite full of himself, Tobias Alcott (James Coburn). It seems Tobias is sickly and doesn’t mind his wife’s dalliances. Tobias is also working on what he believes to be his final novel and neither he nor his wife want him to go out on a down note; it seems he’s hit a mental brick wall. And, Andrea thinks Byron’s fresh blood and wit can help.

It’s a classic Faust tale, of selling your soul to the devil for just rewards. And, by now, we all know that it’s a high price to pay.

Lotta says: Gentle and subtle humor elevate the writing; the story plays out fluidly. Garcia’s hangdog look works nicely for portraying a man so trapped between honor and achieving a legacy. Margulies and Williams are well cast. Coburn looks like he’s having tons of fun playing the blustery novelist. I was most impressed with Mick Jagger – he does a perfect job, sharp and intuitive, particularly in a critical scene opposite longtime client, Jennifer Adler (Angelica Huston) where he unwittingly declares his love for her. He also narrates the film and has some of the keenest lines I’ve heard in a while.

Reviewed 12/5/02