The Dying Gaul, Craig Lucas’s adaptation of his 1998 play, is named for a screenplay (within the screenplay) that’s named for a Roman copy of a classical Greek statue. Adding his own drama to this procession of simulacra, Lucas gives a convoluted tale of adultery and cybersex several novel twists. Still, he’s too committed to old-fashioned naturalism to send the tale pirouetting into the House of Fiction.
A smooth producer (Campbell Scott) takes a meeting with a diffident young screenwriter (Peter Sarsgaard). The screenplay is a tribute to the writer’s dead lover. The producer wants to heterosexualize the scenario by changing its AIDS victim from male to female. Will the writer sell out? Are we here to watch a movie?
For his second seduction, the producer aggressively puts the moves on his new employee. Scott’s suave powerhouse has already destroyed at least one screenwriter, his wife (Patricia Clarkson). Instead of writing, she spends her days darting around their Malibu cliff palace in her bikini. Sarsgaard, an actor who specializes in ambiguity, plays a character who’s complicit in his own corruption. The producer takes him to bed even as the unsuspecting wife, who has taken an interest in hubby’s protégé, goes trolling for him online. When they meet in cyberspace, she pretends to be a gay man—then, composing her script at last, starts fucking more seriously with the writer’s head than the producer could ever imagine.
Entertaining if cornball, lacking the cold-eyed nastiness of something like Mike Nichols’s Closer, The Dying Gaul is tricked out with strident montage sequences and tremulous Steve Reich music. It’s already drowning in an icky sea of language when Lucas makes a stretch for Greek tragedy and sends the whole Malibu playhouse abruptly crashing down.