The Dying Gaul (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A Hollywood producer just has to obtain a hot new script called The Dying Gaul, which is a tragic love story about how a devoted homosexual relationship ended with the death of one partner, as scripted by the other partner. Only one problem - he wants to produce the film as a tragic hetero love story, and the author is opposed to making the change. With a combination of charm and lots of money, the producer manages to convince the author to play ball. And then they start playing much more than that. Turns out the producer is bi-sexual, and was already in love with the author after having read his brilliant, soulful script. Turns out that the producer's wife is also just about in love with the author who, after all, did have a wife and kids himself, so he must have some interest in women, right?

The wife, a brilliant and bored housewife who used to be a screenwriter herself, decides to engage in some safe cybersex with the author, all the while hiding behind a male identity. Of course, as the author confides ever more intimate secrets to his new online pal, he eventually confesses that he's having an affair with a certain producer. This comes as shocking news to the wife, who had no idea that her devoted husband was either unfaithful or bi-sexual. Rather than confronting the two men with the secret, she decides to fuck with their heads.

All of that is merely the set-up. Many twists follow.

Man, this is an unpleasant movie.

It is also quite good.

  • The direction is creative, if a touch on the arty side.
  • The acting is excellent. It's essentially a three character play, and all three actors have plenty of time and the necessary talent to develop their characters. Campbell Scott, Patricia Clarkson, and Peter Sarsgaard are all top-notch actors, and all three were cast perfectly.
  • The script is not as good as the execution. The dialogue is interesting, but the plot seems to have a couple of small loopholes in its logic. No biggie, though. There's nothing so illogical that it distracts from the flow of the drama.

Yes, it is quite competent, but it is nas-ty! What makes it so deeply cynical is that all three characters are basically decent human beings. Very decent. One might even say that they are all principled, reasonable, and compassionate. They are virtually drawn with "decent" signs on their foreheads. This makes it all the more alarming that they are so willing to hurt one another so deeply, and that they all suffer so greatly. We are used to seeing evil behavior from conniving ice-queens and greedy scumbags, and we normally have no sympathy for the evildoers when they get what's coming to them, even when it is operatically excessive, but it shocks us to see three of the nicest people we have ever seen go to the extent of destroying one another over matters that should never have gone so far, which they should all have talked out, and which all of them would have been decent enough to regret greatly in the long run.

In other words, the script carries the message that we are all, even the most decent of us, capable of hurting the people we love most when we are hurt. And not just hurting them in the sense of uttering a few unkind words, but really hurting them in the sense of completely destroying their lives in the worst ways you can imagine.

The subtext of the film is the Buddhist concept of karma. You get back what you have coming to you. Ye shall reap what ye have sown. I don't have any problem with that, but it seems to me that the characters in this film consistently reaped much more pain than they had sown, and that the harvest kept multiplying constantly until an ending which was downright depressing and over-the-top.

Yup. It's a very sound movie. And I wish I had never watched it.

At one point, the producer character says to the author character, "Nobody goes to movies to have a bad time." Good advice. The people who made this film did not heed it. Unsurprisingly, it did nothing in its theatrical run. The distribution maxed out at 24 screens, and it grossed only $342,000.

Critical reaction was mixed, as you might expect, because while people do not go to movies to have a bad time, some critics think they should. Roger Ebert assigned it 2.5 stars, which seems like the right score to me. I've always felt that 2.5 out of four means "Too good to pan; but not recommended, either." That summarizes this film perfectly.




What about Patricia Clarkson at 45? Has any woman ever done what she has - becoming a sex symbol after so many years as the next door neighbor? There are other women who have played sexy roles at age 45, but they were sexy when they were young - Sharon Stone, Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey. Beautiful women are expected to start out sexy, and then the ones with real talent start to play the character parts as they age. But Clarkson somehow went from the Eve Arden roles to the Kim Basinger ones, and Eve Arden is not supposed to turn into Kim Basinger! Throughout Clarkson's youth she was always the dependable gal-pal with the sensible shoes and a husky voice which always sounded best delivering wisecracks and sarcasm and compassionate, well-grounded advice. Now, she appears in the credits in a white bikini with a semi-transparent top, stays in that bikini for several minutes of screen time, and does topless sex scenes. Our Miss Brooks isn't supposed to do that!

And she is just fine in that role. She looks great in that bikini. Her tummy is flat and her whole body looks young, slim, and well-exercised. Her face is not a young woman's face but, hell, she didn't even have a young women's face when she was young. It was always one of those "faces with character." Yet her face is beautiful in its way. She looks much better in moving pictures than in stills because she's pale and fair-haired and from a distance she seems to have no eyebrows, so we need to see how she moves her facial muscles to appreciate the humanity which underlies her beauty. Her eyes are compassionate, and her face is exceedingly expressive. It's surprising to me that she has never become a recognizable name. Then again, given her astounding reverse career path, she may yet make it.



  • No features except the original trailer
  • the transfer is anamorphically enhanced, and is not especially vivid



The nudity early in the film, when the two filmmakers are reminiscing about their earlier films, which included the immortal faux classic, Nude Ninjas.

Monique Paront, Ashley Rhey and Lisa Comshaw are topless and wielding swords as the Nude Ninjas.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Roger Ebert 2.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. Distribution peaked at 24 theaters. Domestic gross was about $350 thousand.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C, a competent movie, one might even say a "good" movie, but only recommended for those who DO go to movies to have a bad time.

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