Movie Review: The Leading Man (1996)

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This piece was originally published by Brian Sauer on his blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks as part of the Underrated Thrillers series by author Jen Johans in the fall of 2014.

A dramatic thriller with twinges of dark comedy and psychological suspense, one of the reasons director John Duigan’s film flew under the radar was because nobody could figure out precisely how to classify the work and pitch it to an audience.

I say forget about trying to fit it into a neat little box and just enjoy the ride.

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi turns in a terrific performance as Robin Grange, an enigmatic American actor who – rumor has it – was kicked out of Hollywood because he wound up in the wrong studio head’s wife’s bed. In London to try his hand in the theater, Robin befriends acclaimed playwright Felix Webb (Lambert Wilson) who is caught in a love triangle of his own.

Desperately in love with a young aspiring actress (played by Thandie Newton) who he’s just cast in his opus opposite Robin, Felix’s devotion to Netwon’s Hilary is put to the test when his tempestuous wife, Helena (Anna Galiena) begins to catch on.

Pushed to his limit by Helena’s latest stunts lashing out against her absentee husband by taking a scissors to his wardrobe and his hair as he sleeps – the frazzled Felix agrees to a bizarre proposition by Robin wherein the American will seduce his wife in order to get her off his back.

A gentleman’s agreement pitched by Robin as a favor to a friend and with the added caveat that since his wife is beautiful “it won’t exactly be a chore,” Felix gives into the man even if in the back of his mind he doesn’t suspect it will work.

Determined to get into character “for a proper love affair,” Robin begins studying Helena’s habits and tastes, working overtime for a role that audiences realize may not stop with just Helena.

Wondering exactly what Robin has in mind, what his gun is for and just who the mark is and what is the motive, when the plan gets underway and begins to involve Hilary as well, the playwright realizes he may have gotten himself into something he can’t write his way out of by final curtain.

A modern day twist on the parable of being careful what one wishes for, while the script (by the director’s sister Virginia Duigan) could benefit from one more twist in the last act, it’s a fascinating tale of karmic revenge that is that much more effective given its theatrical setting.

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