The Other Man is a tease of a film, in which a husband discovers his wife's affair and makes a point of meeting his rival without giving away who he is.
Or is it?
In this film by Richard Eyre, Liam Neeson is the husband, Peter, who stumbles across an incriminating e-mail to his wife, Lisa (Laura Linney) -- which leads him to snoop around her laptop and uncover a trove of photographs of herself in Italy with a handsome man who Peter doesn't know.
So he jets off to Milan, where the e-mail says Lisa and the other man are set to rendezvous. He tracks the guy down -- his name is Ralph (Antonio Banderas), pronounced in the Welsh manner ("Rafe") -- then contrives to meet him. Before long, Peter and Ralph are regularly playing chess together in a café.
Chess is a pretty strained metaphor and not just for the game that Peter is playing with Ralph. It's also emblematic of a game that Eyre, whose script is adapted from a Bernhard Schlink short story, is playing with the audience.
The film bounces back and forth in time, repeating scenes with new context or letting them play out slightly longer. Eyre keeps us guessing about when the husband will reveal himself and what he'll do next.
There's also the question of Ralph himself, who may not be the wealthy gigolo he passes himself off as. But Banderas has trouble capturing the uncertainty beneath the façade; he seems too smooth by half to be party to any of these situations.
By contrast, Neeson's Peter is too much of a hard-charger to be a decent chess player in any sense of the word. He's an angry man whose pride has been hurt; it seems hard to believe that he can keep himself in check long enough to reach the conclusion he seeks.
What's missing here, unfortunately, is Linney, whose character disappears less than halfway through the film. Linney is such a strong actress that her absence is noticeable; her presence takes up space, even when she's not on camera because we're looking for her.
But she's not there. As a result, The Other Man feels like a movie that focuses on the hole, instead of the doughnut.
For more of my reviews, interviews and commentary, visit my website: www.hollywoodandfine.com.
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