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The Man from Elysian Fields

A writer's anxiety of never getting published might disappear once that first book hits Barnes & Noble, but this merely opens them up to a new fear: What if, even after a decent notice in the Times, no one bothers to buy the damn thing? Such is the dilemma being faced by struggling author Byron Tiller in George Hickenlooper's quietly provocative The Man from Elysian Fields. After watching his well-received first novel, a far-fetched thriller entitled Hitler's Child, strike out with the reading public, Tiller (Andy Garcia) has hit dire financial straits as he tries to support his wife Dena (Julianna Margulies) and son while unsuccessfully peddling his latest fictional work about the plight of migrant workers. Unable to find substantially gainful employment elsewhere, much less return to the world of advertising in which he toiled prior to "living the dream," Tiller is near the end of his tether when he encounters the mysterious Luther Fox (Mick Jagger), an employee of Elysian Fields, Inc. which is conveniently located on the same dingy floor of his writing office in Los Angeles. Upon hearing of the author's rough patch, Fox suggests that perhaps his company could find something for Tiller at Elysian Fields, a promising offer for a desperate man until it's revealed that the nondescript company is an escort service. A decent, devoted family man, Tiller initially resists, but the hard fiscal realities to which he comes home night after night prove too much, forcing him to reluctantly join up with Fox. At first, it appears that his job description may not entail the unsavory and unspoken aspects of the escort's calling, as he accompanies the young trophy wife, Andrea (Olivia Williams), of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Tobias Alcott to the opera, but on their second date she makes it clear that Tiller's full services will be required. Believing himself in no position to turn down the money, Tiller reluctantly accompanies her home, setting in motion a series of compromises that will briefly enrich his family, only to eventually eat away at the foundation of their union from within. A subtly surprising little film, The Man from Elysian Fields manages the difficult task of putting a fresh spin on a clichéd cautionary tale. The dangers of whoring out one's craft for a paycheck has been richly mined in many a memorable film — from Sunset Boulevard to Barton Fink — but Hickenlooper and screenwriter Philip Jayson Lasker circumnavigate the expected trappings of this sub-genre by employing a slightly digressive approach to their storytelling that constantly keeps the viewer off-balance. This is particularly true of Fox's characterization. In a morality play such as this, Fox's role as tempter/devil normally never attains more depth then mere archetype, but here he's presented as a fully-blooded human being with real insecurities as he ineptly attempts to woo a longtime client (Anjelica Huston) away from her (presumably) filthy rich husband. It's a smart piece of misdirection on the filmmakers' part and indicative of their general cleverness. Also worthy of commendation are the performances, which are top-notch across the board. Most noteworthy, however, is James Coburn as the dying Alcott, a role made all the more poignant for being the actor's swan song. Ferocious and charming as ever, this is a fine valedictory for Coburn, lending the film an unexpected emotional heft as his character muses over a life spent vigorously with few regrets. Columbia TriStar presents The Man from Elysian Fields in a decent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.0 audio. Extras include an entertaining commentary track with Garcia, Hickenlooper and Lasker, television spots, cast bios, and theatrical trailers. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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