The Man From Elysian Fields

The Man From Elysian Fields

As an authentic portrait of the skin trade, The Man From Elysian Fields ranks somewhere close to Pretty Woman, the wildly popular Cinderella fantasy about a prostitute who never seemed obliged to go about the dirty business of Hollywood Boulevard. Granted, the film takes place in the more rarefied world of high-priced male-escort services, but the particulars are cagily similar: The hero has only one wealthy, extremely attractive client, and their relationship soon grows more personal than professional. Yet The Man From Elysian Fields is less a fantasy than a somber, enveloping mood piece, which is a large part of what makes it so strangely, irrationally compelling. Carried along by a wonderful cast and a seductive neo-noir tone, it's one of those rare films that can be enjoyed even when they aren't believable for one second. Playing a low-level variation on his Ocean's Eleven character—suave with a whiff of desperation—Andy Garcia stars as a struggling author whose previous book, a magnum opus called Hitler's Child, took seven years to write and much less time to reach the clearance bin. Struggling to support his wife (Julianna Margulies) and newborn baby, Garcia receives an additional blow when his publisher turns down his follow-up, leaving him to beg for his old advertising job and hit up his father-in-law for money. Finally, he accepts a position under Mick Jagger, who runs a classy escort service that caters to rich, lonely married women looking for handsome, cultured men to fill in for their inattentive husbands. Initially guilty and reluctant, Garcia lucks out when his first assignment is Olivia Williams, the beautiful young wife of the aging, impotent James Coburn, who also happens to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning author working on his long-awaited swan song. Not surprisingly, a collaboration begins that takes Garcia deeper into his client's life, but the nature of their relationship poses a compromising threat. Implausible at every turn, The Man From Elysian Fields is the ultimate in screenwriting convenience, removed from the real world and guided by an internal logic that defies any recognizable motivations. But taken strictly as a character piece, with a welcome strain of wry, sophisticated humor, the film fares well on its own terms, particularly when it yields the floor to Jagger and Coburn, both typecast to perfection. Working well within their range as a cool, silver-tongued gentleman and an exceedingly salty novelist, respectively, Jagger and Coburn are given roles that reside closer to stock movie characters than actual people. If only the rest of the film were as thoroughly and deliciously artificial, it might have made a little sense.

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