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MOVIE REVIEW

'The Other Man'

The cast is good -- Liam Neeson and Laura Linney -- and there's passable tension in the twists and turns of infidelity, but it all makes better sense in retrospect.

September 11, 2009|Gary Goldstein

Despite its respected cast, accomplished director and distinguished source author, "The Other Man" is, at best, a minor work. That's not to say this atypical hybrid of romantic melodrama and twisty thriller should be avoided; there are several effective surprises and intellectual pleasures to be had here. But approaching the film with, let's say, lowered expectations may go a long way toward appreciating what it attempts, as well as what it achieves.

Based on a short story by German writer Bernhard Schlink, who also penned the novel on which last year's excellent "The Reader" was based, "The Other Man" stars an especially sober Liam Neeson as Peter, a successful computer software executive long married to Lisa (Laura Linney), a celebrated high-end shoe designer who disappears after startling her husband with some blunt comments about marital fidelity -- or her lack thereof.

Thanks to the revealing contents of a laptop and cellphone that Lisa has curiously left behind, a distraught Peter discovers she's been having an affair and becomes obsessed with tracking down her lover. This takes Peter from his Cambridge, England, home to Milan, where he quickly meets and befriends said paramour, the dashing, seemingly well-off Ralph (Antonio Banderas, not fully up to the multi-task of playing a Spanish-Brit mix living in Italy).

Without divulging that he's Lisa's husband, Peter gets to know Ralph over numerous cafe chess games (what better -- or more tired -- metaphor for Peter's cat-and-mouse manipulations?) and things unravel from there, though not in the way one might immediately expect.

Director Richard Eyre, who's helmed such superior films as "Iris," "Stage Beauty" and, especially, "Notes on a Scandal," brings passable tension and intrigue to the often-glossy proceedings. He also manages to leapfrog time in ways that, while sometimes jarring, adeptly help conceal the movie's linchpin secret.

The film's mind's eye flashbacks -- or are they just Peter's imaginings? -- can also be a bit confusing, though they, along with many moments that may initially seem questionable, make better sense in retrospect.

Eyre, who adapted the trim script with Charles Wood, had the room here to further flesh out the main characters and their conflicts, particularly that of the testy relationship between Peter and his sourpuss daughter Abigail (Romola Garai), without compromising the film's unexpected turns. Still, it's a decent adult drama that should keep you guessing.

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'The Other Man'

MPAA rating: R for some sexuality/nudity and language

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: In selected theaters

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