The Man From Elysian Fields
review by Elias Savada, 18 October 2002

Director George Hickenlooper still hasn't made a film as good as his best documentary, 1991's Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, the brilliant piece demystifying Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now that he co-wrote and co-directed by Fax Bahr. Or as fine as his best fictional piece Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, the short that inspired Billy Bob Thornton's Oscar-winning feature. His current effort may be as sleek as his sold-to-cable indie feature The Big Brass Ring, based on an unfilmed screenplay by Orson Welles, but The Man From Elysian Fields is a cold, bliss-less work that groans along thinking itself some important comment on how life throws us some beguiling curves. It's actually nothing more than a mildly amusing business proposition surrounded by creaky melodramatic drivel.

Andy Garcia is the topliner, portraying Byron Tiller, a Pasadena dad, husband, and never-really-successful novelist who can't even sell a remainder-priced, soon-to-be-autographed edition of his book Hitler's Child to an seemingly interested bystander at the local Rizzoli's. (Perhaps humorist Dave Barry -- if he dared spend time watching this film -- is wondering, as he often does, whether Hitler's Child would be a great name for a rock group.) However, it's aging rocker Mick Jagger who struts out on stage and absolutely steals the spotlight, what little there is that shines here. As debonair businessman Luther Fox (and the film's slight narrator), he's the story's immoral center, a reptilian creature of habit camouflaged in fancy designer threads and caressed by cigarette smoke. No, he's not the CEO of Enron, but the world weary owner of a male escort business, Elysian Fields, Inc. He's a snake and a charmer, and he's got an eye on the good-looking Byron, who's seedy Hollywood office is right down the hall from Elysian's Room 507 and just around the corner from a sea of trouble.

The harried Byron, still convinced that he's got the great American novel locked up inside him, is adored by his supportive, beautiful wife Dena (ER's Julianna Margulies), who admires his brain possibly as much as his expertise under the bed sheets. She has so much faith in her spouse that I half expected her to set up a tent outside their apartment and start a revival meeting.

Hallelujah, BYRON, Hallelujah!

Sorry for the digression, but the morning coffee just kicked in.

With a baby son going through more disposal diapers than can be stocked at the local Costco, those pesky rent and car payments being missed, and Dena's rich, obnoxious construction-magnate father unwilling to loan his son-in-law a thousand bucks or an ounce of respect, these are trying times for the struggling author. And doesn't he look it! He drives a wreck of a VW bug, his hair is greasy and flops, uncombed, down over his forehead. He's got stubble on his face, and that sad puppy look drives the point home.

So when his snobby Little, Brown editor flat-out rejects his latest book for being overtly symbolic, instead of telling wifey the truth, he starts spinning the Big Lie. That his book has been optioned, that the Book-of-the-Month people are interested, and that all will be well in the world. As luck, and screenwriter Philip Jayson Lasker tells us, opportunity arrives in the impeccably dressed Luther, who fawns on Byron that he is also a fan of his work (A side note/question mark on the screenwriter. The publicity material indicates Lasker has written at least five other scripts, none yet produced, including one for Tom Cruise based on the screenwriter's novel Identity Crisis, identified as having been published by Putnam. A visit to the Library of Congress, Amazon, ebay, Penguin Putnam, and Copyright Office websites divulge no such book. Maybe I should have looked under Hitler's Child?).

Armed with Luther's business card (with an actual phone number-323-460-6409; don't bother, it's disconnected), the kind you know someone's wife is bound to discover in a jacket pocket, Byron joins the escort corps of "cocker spaniels with hard-ons" and is soon servicing thirty-four-year-old Andrea Alcott (Rushmore's Olivia Williams), the decades-younger wife of dying triple-Pulitzer Prize winning author Tobias (James Coburn). This IS California, after all, and this couple has one of those cordial "open" relationships. The dour Byron finds "tending to the wounds of lonely women" hard to write up on his resume, so he instead offers his help rewriting Tobias' last great novel, a rambling 800-page manuscript on the Roman Empire several steps down from his earlier efforts (apparently not even close to his Whores of Babylon -- or is that the name of a rock band?).

Where does this all lead? Well Luther wants to get out of the biz and settle down with Jennifer Adler (Anjelica Huston), his only "personal" client who married for money and plans to stay that way. Byron gets shafted from both ends, digs down deep within his soul and….

Oh God, yes, it's one of those clean-shaven, smartly dressed, hair-in-place endings.

Directed by:
George Hickenlooper

Andy Garcia
Mick Jagger
Julianna Margulies
Olivia Williams
James Coburn
Anjelica Huston

Written by:
Philip Jayson Lasker

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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