The promising intrigue of a husband’s bullheaded obsession with his wife’s lover falls flat in “The Other Man,” directed with an indifferent hand by Richard Eyre. With his screenwriting partner Charles Wood (adapting Bernhard Schlink’s original story), Eyre prods what begins as a drama toward a droller tone in the final act, complete with a twisty and manipulative revelation, but the course is as rocky as it is ultimately empty. Centerpiece is a mano a mano between Liam Neeson and Antonio Banderas, which will be the draw for auds after certain sales across most territories following pic’s Toronto preem.
If there were some intended mystery over whom that other man actually is, it’s revealed shortly after the opening credits, which linger over a boating excursion on Lake Como enjoyed by Lisa (Laura Linney) and Ralph (Banderas).
Lisa is then seen with her husband Peter (Neeson) at a New York fashion show featuring Lisa’s haute-couture shoe designs. A brief post-show encounter with Peter’s daughter Abigail (Romola Garai) suggests a frosty relationship between her and her father, while Peter looks suspiciously at designer Ralph (Banderas), who seems a bit too smoochy with Lisa.
The suspicious mood continues at dinner, when Lisa, unprompted, asks Peter if he’s ever thought of sleeping with someone else. Peter is nonplussed, but clearly, something is on Lisa’s mind. Leaving for work the next day, Lisa also appears to leave the film, which jumps forward to Abigail and Peter going through some of Lisa’s clothes and other items and finding a note scribbled with the words “Lake Como.”
“The Other Man” initially maintains an aura of uncertainty, suggesting a hidden side to Lisa. After Peter listens to a message on Lisa’s cell phone from a man (who sounds unmistakably like Banderas’ Ralph), he snoops through her laptop files, finding photos of Lisa with Ralph, enjoying Italian fun and bedtime mischief.
Now on a personal mission to find out who this guy actually is, Peter follows an email trail to Milan, where he finds Ralph in a cafe playing solo chess.
The tension and absurdity of a lover unwittingly revealing his affair to his lover’s husband register only mildly in a series of dialogues between Peter and Ralph (who pronounces his name in Brit fashion). What makes little sense, from a behavioral standpoint, is Ralph being so thickheaded that he can’t pick up on Peter’s hostile, laser-beam stares. The fact that Ralph isn’t exactly as suave as he appears doesn’t explain how he could miss that Peter has more than chess on his mind. Pic’s plot becomes increasingly untenable from there.
As a decent man trying to find out the truth about his wife, Neeson suggests someone less emotionally frayed than driven by jealousy and/or guilt, resulting in a performance that registers in an oddly cool key.
Banderas has by far the more interesting character, but the payoff once his Ralph learns the entire story about Lisa is unhelpfully dull. Linney’s trace on the movie is just that; her character is more talked about than seen.
Eyre’s handling is typically straight, classy and unremarkable, similar to his work on “Notes on a Scandal,” with a production squad of lenser Haris Zambarloukos, production designer Gemma Jackson and editor Tariq Anwar rendering ultra-pro work down the line. Stephen Warbeck’s standard score hits the obsessive-thriller notes but little more.