The Leading Man (1996)

 “I could seduce your wife.”

The Leading Man is a tasty little drama set in London and centered on the marriage of playwright Felix Webb (Lambert Wilson). As the film begins, Webb is helping cast roles for his new play, and he’s secretly having a passionate affair with young talented actress Hilary Rule (Thandie Newton). Meanwhile, his neglected wife Elena (Anna Galiena) sniffs something’s afoot, and this results in increased tension at home while Felix juggles the demands of wife, mistress and new play.

leadingEnter American actor Robin Grange (Jon Bon Jovi). He’s left Hollywood with the intention of working in theatre, but he still draws crowds of fans, autograph seekers, and potential groupies. His good looks, charisma and direct approach to women prove to be a deadly combination, and the women in the cast speculate over his talent as a bedmate. Hilary, however, isn’t interested in Robin. She’s too busy pressuring Felix to leave his wife.

Robin is a complex character. He appears to be just another pretty face, but it’s not long before he makes it clear to Felix that he knows about the affair with Hilary. Dropping hints here and there, Robin seems to be playing a strange game of cat-and-mouse. And then Robin proposes an unexpected solution. He suggests helping Felix by seducing Elena. Asserting that this is the best solution for everyone, Robin smoothly argues the case for seduction stating that a love affair will give Felix some needed space, restore Elena’s confidence and show her that Felix isn’t so necessary after all.

This bizarre turn of events is intriguing. After all, the role of cuckolded husband isn’t exactly enviable. Even adulterous husbands generally don’t want some other man sniffing around the old homestead. But while Felix is at first appalled by Robin’s suggestion, he concedes to the strategy.

The Leading Man reminds me of the domestic politics of a Woody Allen film, but without the comedy–although there are elements of dark humour. The film works so well largely due to the ambiguity of Robin’s motives. Is he malicious or ambitious? Is he truly interested in Elena, or is he out for what he can get? Ultimately this decision is wisely left up to the audience.

I read some criticisms of Jon Bon Jovi’s performance, and this seems unfair. He did an excellent job as the amoral, slippery Hollywood actor who possesses amazing powers of duplicity. This entertaining drama is from director John Duigan.

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Filed under British, Drama

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