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George Hickenlooper
Mick Jagger, Andy Garcia, James Coburn, Olivia Williams, Julianna Margulies, Anjelica Huston
Writing Credits:
Phillip Jayson Lasker

Pleasure is his business...Call him old-fashioned.
Box Office:
Budget $6.5 million.
Opening weekend $46,353 on 6 screens.
Domestic gross $1.431 million.
Rated R for language and sexual content.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 106 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 3/18/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director George Hickenlooper, Actor/Producer Andy Garcia, and Writer Phil Lasker
• Filmographies
• Trailers
• TV Spots

Score soundtrack

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The Man from Elysian Fields (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 26, 2003)

While many folks see movies based on the actors who star in them, my take tends to be a little different. ďRealĒ actors donít often convince me to watch a flick, but if a favorite musical artist makes an appearance, I start to get interested. Mostly that means I check out the occasional Madonna clunker. Of course, I also watched the adventures of a Maddy wannabe.

My latest rock star movie experience came from one of my all-time favorite singers, Mick Jagger. Mick doesnít do too many movies, and Iíve only watched a couple of them. I donít recall feeling impressed by his prior work, but then again, how impressive can one seem in junk like Freejack?

Given that Jagger earned pretty good reviews for 2002ís The Man From Elysian Fields, I decided to give it a look despite the fact I knew nothing about the story. As it happens, Elysian focuses on struggling writer Byron Tiller (Andy Garcia). Entitled Hitlerís Child, his last book earned decent notices but failed to sell. He lives with his wife Dena (Julianna Margulies) and very young son Nathaniel in Pasadena, and the family encounters definite financial problems.

These donít improve when Byronís editor (Xander Berkeley) rejects his latest work and Denaís rich father (Richard Bradford) refuses to loan him money due to animosity between the pair. In addition, Byron tries to get back his old job in advertising, but he burned too many bridges when he quit. While he soaks his troubles at a bar, Byron meets Luther Fox (Jagger), the proprietor of Elysian Fields, a mysterious business with an office a couple of doors down from Tillerís. Fox smooth-talks Byron and invites him to stop by if he needs a hand.

Eventually Byron gets desperate enough to investigate Elysian Fields, and he soon discovers that Fox runs a high-class male escort service. Byron initially declines to work for Luther, but given his monetary struggles, he accedes to temptation. Luther sets up Byron with Andrea Alcott (Olivia Williams), the wife of triple Pulitzer Prize winner Tobias (James Coburn). Initially the pair maintain a platonic relationship as Byron accompanies Andrea to theater events. He remains very guilty about his job, though, and those feelings intensify when he eventually beds the lovely Andrea.

Since heís near death, Tobias supports his wifeís extracurricular activities, so he gets to know Byron as well. Andrea asks Tiller to read Tobiasí latest effort, mostly so he can tell the author that it stinks. She fears that itíll ruin his reputation, so Byron helps. Although Tobias initially takes poorly to the criticism, he ultimately agrees and recruits Byron to reshape the book with him.

From there Elysian follows the interaction between Tiller and the Alcotts as well as his disintegrating home life. In addition, we see some evidence of Lutherís relationship with his sole remaining client, Jennifer Adler (Anjelica Huston). For Luther, matters have become more involved that just business, and he has to deal with his feelings toward Jennifer.

Although Jagger received good reviews for his work, I admit I didnít expect much from him. To my surprise, he offered absolutely terrific work in Elysian. Iíd say heís the best thing about the film, though all the actors provided fine performances. Garcia brought a nice low-key honesty to Byron. He manifested the pain experienced by Byron as he dealt with various responsibilities, but he didnít turn the characterís emotions into cartoon angst. Coburn provided a gruff and affecting performance as well, and his work seemed all the more moving given the actorís death in late 2002.

But Jagger stole the show. At first, I thought heíd play Fox as nothing more than a campy tart, which was all I figured the role would demand. And that seemed fine with me, as Jagger offered tight line readings and brought a sly gusto to the part. However, I didnít expect that the character would grow more real during his later scenes, and I definitely didnít anticipate the aplomb with which Jagger pulled off those sequences. He deftly underplayed his emotions, which made those parts all the more compelling. Itís a shame Jagger didnít get an Oscar nod in the Supporting Actor category, as he largely made Elysian worth watching.

Without Jagger and the other actors, unfortunately, these wasnít much to Elysian. The story lacked much depth and never really tried to explore issues beyond a superficial level. It suffered from some unfortunate directorial choices such as an annoying swirling camera during the scene in which Tobias and Byron discussed story ideas. The movie also provided that weakest of gimmicks, the musical montage. Actually, that concept can work in a more light-hearted movie, but in a flick like this, the montage seemed out of place.

Even the actors canít keep Elysian from going to pot in the final act. The movie became far too melodramatic as it attempted to bring matters to a head. The flick seemed best when it kept things subtle and low-key, but those elements flew out the window toward the end of the film. Given that the story stretched credulity in prior sequences, this tendency didnít work for it.

Despite weak plot twists, awkward direction, and some flat writing, The Man From Elysian Fields merited my attention just for the performances. No one will mistake it for an actorís showcase, but the entire cast offered solid work, and some did even better than that. If nothing else, Elysian proved that the occasional rock star really can act.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B- / Bonus C+

The Man From Elysian Fields appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the movie remained watchable at all times, it displayed a few more concerns than Iíd expect of a recent flick.

For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. The majority of the film looked acceptably crisp and distinct, but some softness interfered at times. Mostly this affected a few wide shots, particularly those taken indoors. I saw no issues related to jagged edges or moirť effects, but some light edge enhancement appeared at times.

Elysian manifested a nicely naturalistic palette for the most part, though some exceptions occurred. For example, shots outside the Elysian Fields used a sickly green tint. Overall, the colors looked quite solid. They came across as tight and vivid, and they demonstrated no problems related to noise, bleeding or other issues. Black levels looked deep and dense, while shadows appeared appropriately dark but not overly thick.

Despite the recent vintage of Elysian, it suffered from a mix of modest print flaws. The image looked a little grainier than Iíd expect, and I noticed occasional examples of grit and speckles along with less frequent instances of blotches and nicks. Between the source defects and minor sharpness concerns, Elysian fell to a ďB-ď for image quality.

A few issues caused me to give an identical grade to the Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack of The Man From Elysian Fields. Given the character-oriented nature of the film, I didnít expect much from the soundfield, and it mostly remained low-key. The forward speakers dominated, and they mostly provided general ambience. This worked pretty well, though occasionally the environmental elements seemed too prominent in the mix. In particular, the crowd sound during conversations at the opera hall became a distraction, as those elements made it a little tough to hear the speakers.

For the most part, however, the track manifested an acceptable balance. Surround usage remained modest through the movie. That sort of crowd scene provided the most active material, but the rear speakers remained pretty subdued, as seemed appropriate for this sort of material.

Elysian lost some points due to audio quality, mainly in regard to speech. Dialogue sounded too bass-heavy much of the time, and the denseness of the lines occasionally made them tough to understand. I also noticed a little edginess to some speech. Music seemed clean and accurate, as the score displayed good range and clarity. Effects generally came across acceptably well, though those elements also accentuate the low-end spectrum too strongly at times. The bassiness of the audio became a definite distraction on occasion, as the track simply seemed too heavy in low-end material. Still, the mix worked well enough for the material to earn a ďB-ď.

The Man From Elysian Fields tosses in a few extras. The only substantial one involves an audio commentary from director George Hickenlooper, actor/producer Andy Garcia, and writer Phil Lasker. All three sat together for this running, screen-specific piece. The trio provided a pretty lively and interesting affair. They covered the origins of the project and casting issues Ė particularly related to Jaggerís involvement Ė as well as sets and locations, changes made to the script, working with the actors, the restrictions of low-budget filmmaking, and more. The men interacted well and presented a nicely casual chemistry. On the negative side, they offered a bit too much general praise, and the commentary sagged somewhat during the second half of the film. Nonetheless, the track generally worked very well that included some good information.

Otherwise, the DVDís supplements seem skimpy. In addition to filmographies for actors Andy Garcia, Mick Jagger, Julianna Margulies, Olivia Williams and James Coburn, we find some ads. The DVD provides trailers for Fields along with Punch-Drunk Love and the Jagger-produced Enigma. Finally, we get three TV Spots for Fields.

As a whole, The Man From Elysian Fields offered an inconsistent but generally compelling piece of work. It prospered mostly due to some excellent acting, especially because of a surprisingly strong performance from Mick Jagger. Picture and sounded quality seemed acceptable but unexceptional, and the DVD included few extras other than a fairly positive audio commentary. Elysian didnít seem memorable enough for me to espouse a purchase, but the DVD would definitely make for a worthwhile rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9166 Stars Number of Votes: 12
4 3:
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