While Richard Eyre’s deliciously over-the-top Notes on a Scandal simmered with surprise and a delicate, unraveling narrative, The Other Man, based on a Bernard Schlink short story of the same name, utilizes a fractured story structure, minus the fun of its salacious forerunner, to sketch an illusive portrait of a loving, successful couple pulled apart at the seams by surfacing desires. After her most recent runway show, Lisa (Laura Linney), a winning American shoe designer, relishes in the London spotlight while her doting English husband, Peter (Liam Neeson), CEO of a routine computer software company, stands cluelessly in the corner. On one particularly romantic evening, Lisa poses the question to Peter about infidelity—if he would indulge those temptations—and the resounding answer is no. As Lisa leaves for another trip to her Milan shoe factory, Peter waves goodbye, without a single lingering moment of hesitation or suspicion. But when Peter and their daughter Abigail (Romola Garai) clean Lisa’s office some years later, they stumble upon a note in one of the woman’s red, well-made heels, reading “Lake Cuomo” in bold, capitalized ink. Soon, the note leads Peter on a path to discovering a secret Lisa has kept for quite some time now, a suave European lover named Ralph (Antonio Banderas).
The film is filled with good-on-paper moments (such as when Peter finally tracks down Ralph in a Milan coffee shop and they play an endless, meandering chess game) that build up and slowly tighten like a knot but usually end in a whimper (no confrontation occurs between the two and they go on their merry way), while a hokey, heart-tugging plot-reveal involving Lisa feels pulled from another film entirely, dropped in the story to make Lisa more empathetic—a flimsy attempt to redeem her veiled misgivings. But mostly the film fails because the woman’s relationships—her marriage and affair—are so thinly portrayed the audience cares for no one; even the clear, wronged protagonist, Peter, comes off as a caricature of a crazed, wounded man. Writer-director Eyre tries his best at constructing his own play on marital dissatisfaction, but he can’t muster the roller-coaster energy he brought to Scandal. Because he lacks the measured, controlled hand of a master of suspense like Claude Chabrol, Other Man fizzles out rather than stuns, never transcending its slight framework filled with time-jumping, narrative holes. The pure, penetrating gaze of the sultry Stephane Audran may have been what is missing from Eyre’s dead-on-arrival study of modern-day infidelity.