Rated NR

Ben Kingsley plays the Philip Roth part in this adaptation of The Dying Animal. He’s a high-profile literature professor in his early-60s who falls for a beautiful young blah blah blah blah blah. Wow, have we seen this before! Just last year, Starting Out in the Evening covered roughly similar ground. But at least Kingsley is compelling in the role, and, strangely, Dennis Hopper, as his friend, is understated and human. The best aspects of this film, though, come from the female leads, Penélope Cruz and Patricia Clarkson, and the supporting part by Peter Sarsgaard. Cruz is the beautiful young student, and while she’s physically qualified for the part, she’s also more than deep enough to turn her thin character into something thick and rich. Clarkson plays Kingsley’s aging paramour, and she knows how to use the lines in her face and around her collarbone to create a sad and complex image of faded beauty. What’s perhaps most interesting about this film is the act of literary revenge that arrives in the end: Knowing that he cannot keep his young lover, the author disfigures and ages her. Nobody ever accused Philip Roth of being a feminist, but this plot point is almost a comic reflection of the main character’s jealous obsession.

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