I watched the movie Lifetime was airing, The Other Man, which judging from the way they promoted it looked like a pretty typical piece of Lifetime cheese: a long-time married man suspects his woman of having an affair and follows her around to see if she is, which of course leads to no good end for any of the people involved. It turned out to be something quite different: a 2008 thriller made by Rainmark Films at the old Ealing Studios in England (the original Ealing logo appears on the opening credits), directed by Richard Eyre (whom I’d seen before as director of Shakespeare’s two Henry IV plays in the recent BBC sequence The Hollow Crown) and co-written by Eyre and Charles Wood based on a short story by Bernhard Schlink. Not only was this made for theatrical release, it had an “A”-list cast (at least the 2008 “A”-list): Liam Neeson as the husband, Peter, a software engineer; Laura Linney as the wife, Lisa, a designer of haute couture shoes; and Antonio Banderas as the titular “other man,” Ralph (though, like Neeson’s real-life Schindler’s List co-star Ralph Fiennes, he pronounces the name “Rafe”), product of an Italian father and a British mother and an ex-con layabout with a spotty employment history. (During one of the commercial breaks I posted that information — the coincidence of Neeson playing opposite a character with the name Ralph, pronounced “Rafe,” after he’d worked with a real-life actor with the same pronunciation of the same name; and also that Liam Neeson and Laura Linney had previously played husband and wife in the 2004 film Kinsey — to imdb.com, and the posts went up by the next commercial break: the fastest service I’ve ever had from that Web site.)
I was actually disappointed by The Other Man in that it wasn’t a typical piece of Lifetime sleaze — that’s what I was in the mood for just then — and for the most part it was a cat-and-mouse game between the Neeson and Banderas characters. It seems that the affair took place in Italy — Peter caught on to it by finding a slip of paper with the letters “LAKE COMO” on it in one of a pair of red shoes his wife had designed and worn herself — while Lisa was on her frequent business trips there. So Peter goes to Italy himself and tracks down Ralph, engaging him in a series of chess games (once again, chess as a metaphor for the real-life pursuit game he’s playing with the man he suspects — rightly, we eventually learn — of being his wife’s lover) and also forging e-mails, ostensibly from his wife (he’s hacked into her account with his computer software skills and thereby got to see her private photos of her and Ralph together, including ones in bed), just to mind-fuck Ralph and get him to show up at certain places. Even Peter’s daughter Abigail (Romola Garai), who for the most part is drawn as the sole voice of reason in this cast — despite the grungy-looking guy, George (Craig Parkinson), she’s dating and of whom Peter instantly disapproves — gets into the game and calls Peter with her mom’s phone, then says nothing as he answers.
For much of the movie I was expecting a Diabolique-like plot twist in which Lisa and Ralph would be in a plot to drive Peter crazy and ultimately kill him so they could be together and get Peter’s money, but the reversal that actually happens is one of those things that makes you go, “Huh?” It turns out that Lisa has been dead from the get-go — all the scenes in which we’ve seen her as a live character were flashbacks — she died in hospital after a long struggle with cancer (indeed, it’s hinted that it was only because she was already diagnosed as terminal that she allowed herself an affair so she could experience love off the beaten path before she croaked) — and she actually wrote the “LAKE COMO” note herself and had her daughter put it in her shoe so her husband would discover it after she died. The Other Man didn’t have the sleazy thrills of the usual Lifetime movie (if it had been produced by one of Lifetime’s usual suppliers I have a feeling it would have been about a woman suspecting her husband of an affair, then learning to her horror that not only is he having an affair, it’s a Gay one with another guy!) and — unlike The Good Girl and Speak, other theatrical films that turned up on Lifetime — it didn’t have much to offer in its place. Indeed, The Other Man seemed to me to be a typical example of what Dwight Macdonald called “the Bad Good Movie,” a film that obviously had high aspirations but equally obviously fell short of what it was aiming at; through much of it I was muttering under my breath, “Richard Eyre: Another director who thinks he’s Alfred Hitchcock … and isn’t.” In an attempt to bring depth and psychological power to the usual thriller tropes, The Other Man just turns dull and flat, a pale echo of the power the same dramatic premise (though with the genders reversed — two women meet and befriend each other, then realize that the lover of one of them is the husband of the other) had in the 1933 MGM film When Ladies Meet.