A turgid tale of adultery among the rich and boring, “The Other Man” boasts a strong cast and a starry creative team (it was co-written and directed by Richard Eyre, of “Notes on a Scandal,” from a story by Bernhard Schlink, who penned “The Reader”), but in the end it’s almost unbearably dull.
The husband is Peter (Liam Neeson), a rich London executive whose wife Lisa (Laura Linney) is a designer of fashionable shoes. After one of her runway shows, she asks him whether he’d ever considered sleeping with somebody else—a thought he quashes. But the question makes him wonder about her fidelity.
The picture then cuts to some unspecified time later, when Peter is clearing Lisa’s clothes from her closet alongside his daughter Abigail (Romola Garai). In going through her things he finds a note referring to Lake Como and a phone message from an unknown man that send him to her computer files, where he discovers evidence of an affair. He’s determined to locate the man and—as he says at several points—kill him, a desire that sends him on an obsessive search.
It ends with Peter locating Ralph (Antonio Banderas) in an Italian café, where the fellow, a suave but smarmy type, plays out chess matches alone while sipping cappuccino. Befriending the guy by pretending to be a chess nut too, Peter’s soon playing against him, and Ralph gradually reveals his affair with a woman named Lisa. But he also inadvertently discloses that he’s been out of touch with her for some time and anxious to talk with her again.
Peter toys with the fellow in a fashion meant to suggest, one supposes, that he has malevolent intent. But in the end he even lends Ralph, who’s heavily in debt, money for a dinner meeting he’s arranged with Lisa. And in the last reel Schlink and Eyre throw a curve with a narrative surprise that explains Peter’s distraught condition and brings an ironically just conclusion to Ralph’s shady doings.
“The Other Man” is very slickly made, with cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos taking advantage of the many locations in his handsome widescreen images. And the trio of stars certainly give their all. Neeson smolders moodily, shooting daggers at Banderas from his eyes as they hunch over the chessboard. Banderas, meanwhile, seems to be having a great time playing a slimy cad. As for Linney, her best scenes have to do with that plot twist that’s best left unrevealed, so we’ll only say that she’s up to her usual standard. Garai is okay in her brief appearances, as is Amanda Drew as a woman Peter enlists to help him track down his nemesis.
This is a story that literally might have been filmed sixty or seventy years ago. But back then some Hollywood hack would have given it a panache lacking in this all too staid, serious treatment. Today it seems a movie caught in a time warp that’s rendered it obsolete even before it was made, however clever Schlink thought he was being (also a problem with “The Reader”) and Eyre believed him to be.