What would you do if you discovered photographic proof on your husband or wife’s laptop that they had been conducting a secret affair? Would your whole world collapse? Would you seek vengeance?
Or would you lie awake at night torturing yourself over how it could have happened and how you could have missed all the warning signs in the first place?
In “The Other Man,” which opens this Friday, Liam Neeson plays Peter, a well-to-do husband who is startled to discover incontrovertible proof that his beautiful wife Lisa (Laura Linney) had been conducting a years-long affair with a handsome stranger named Ralph (Antonio Banderas) who lives in Italy.
Shocked by the unexpected news, his life becomes an out of control rollercoaster, whirling between anger, self-recrimination and the desire for revenge.
But as the film opens we first see the happily married couple in their element – he’s the CEO of a successful software design company, and she’s a fixture in the world of high fashion. From a career point of view, and in their obviously contented personal lives, both appear to have it all.
After 25 years of marriage Peter and Lisa are still inseparable and still devoted to each other. Even sore points like Peter’s less-than-perfect relationship with his daughter Abigail (Ramola Garai) cannot dent the enduring ties between them.
But every marriage has its secrets, and in Lisa’s case they turn out to be more wrenching than most. Early on in the film she disappears (was it a suicide, a murder, or did she simply walk out for good?), and when Peter is going through her abandoned things he finds a note in the heel of a pair of red shoes.
It reads “Lake Como,” and it has obviously been put there for him to find. The words mean nothing to him however; he’s never been to that part of Italy.
It’s only after weeks pass that he finds a password-protected file on his wife’s laptop. He tries every formulation he can think of until he at last remembers the note in the shoe, and types “Lake Como.”
Immediately he’s looking at photographic proof of his wife’s infidelity - and he also gets his first look at his rival (Banderas).
When he opens his wife’s email account he finds emails from Ralph, who has apparently been trying to revive their relationship.
Madly, in the persona of his wife, Neeson writes back to Ralph trying to discover more about him. Soon he even travels to Italy where he successfully attempts to befriend him.
Day by day he slowly teases out the story of the affair from the unsuspecting stranger, never revealing his true identity.
“The Other Man” is really concerned with the often dramatic difference between how things look and how things really are, particularly when it comes to the human heart.
Over time the long love affair between Ralph and Lisa is revealed to the appalled Peter, and the game of cat and mouse intensifies.
In the role of Peter, Neeson reminds us why he’s one of the most respected lead actors in the world – his performance as the almost insanely furious husband is by turns heartrending and terrifying. Neeson accesses levels of subtlety and fury that drive the film forward; it’s his performance that gives the film its dramatic force.
But “The Other Man” is a less than perfect film. Although the performances are solid and the cinematography is evocative and lush, it’s the script that lets the whole project down.
And contrived devices like Lisa’s unexplained disappearance (until the final act, where the explanation fails to satisfy) and the consistent refusal to let the characters have their full say leaves the audience to grapple with all they’ve witnessed.
Clearly director Richard Eyre doesn’t believe in spelling things out, preferring instead to rely on the many theatrical images he hopes will speak louder than words.
“The Other Man” is filmed like a thriller, but it’s actually a fairly nimble meditation on the nature of love and the need to accept human frailty, rather than to condemn.
By the final reel, though, it becomes clear that the film is neither a thriller nor a melodrama, but an unfortunately unsatisfying hybrid of each.
“The Other Man”, rated R, opens on Friday, September 25.
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