I find it hard to say much good about Mick Jagger these days. His abysmal solo album and corporate rock antics with the Stones make him the poster child for not aging well. So it’s rather refreshing to come across something he does that is redeeming. I found it in the most unlikely of places, the local art house movie theater.
The film is called The Man From Elysian Fields, and though it’s not perfect, it is undoubtedly Jagger’s finest cinematic performance. Yes, I know that’s not saying much if you only consider his acting roles (i.e. Freejack) but Jagger in this movie rivals even Mick as himself in Gimme Shelter.
The Man From Elysian Fields is the story of Byron Tiller (Andy Garcia), a failed novelist who can’t support his wife and child. Jagger plays Luther Fox, a suave pimp who recruits the desperate Bryon for his high-class escort service that caters to lonely rich women. But instead of screwing an old bag with varicose veins, Byron winds up in bed with the young wife of a dying Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (James Coburn). As you might expect, this has career ramifications and personal complications for Byron, as he befriends not just the author’s wife (Olivia Williams) but the Hemingway-esque old man.
Jagger is riveting, stealing each and every scene from Garcia. As written, the Luther Fox role is a supporting one, yet it’s clear that director George Hickenlooper realized the power of both Jagger’s physical presence and his voice. Jagger narrates the film as something of an Elizabethan chorus, while Luther prods Byron deeper and deeper into his personal turmoil as success as a writer threatens Byron’s marriage and happiness.
Like many independents, The Man From Elysian Fields is an uneven film. Garcia again proves that he has marginal acting skills. Coburn is excellent, but his character is more caricature than it is dynamic. Williams is beautifully cold, but Julianna Margulies as Byron’s wife overacts to the extreme. Hickenlooper is a talented director, as evidenced by his narrative feature debut The Low Life (1996), but The Man From Elysian Fields feels unfinished. Several scenes could have been cut; the script could have been rewritten and tightened. Yet as these criticisms crop up while watching the film, none of them stick—Jagger makes you forget.
Mick’s craggy face is accentuated with shadows, his slight form tucked into a series of magnificently dapper suits. The effect is to create a powerful charisma that drives the film along, despite the script’s inherent sappiness. Luther is treading the same path as Byron, sharing many of the same torments and thus we care about Byron Tiller, not because of his wife and child, not because of Garcia’s winsome smile, but because of Jagger’s deft hand at playing Fox. Sympathy for the devil; Jagger makes this movie.
Only Jagger could have done what he did with this role. Mick is an old man, nearly 60. He’s far beyond the age at which he’s believable being Mick Jagger, frontman of the world’s greatest rock and roll band. It seems, at least to this rock critic, that it’s incredibly unfair a guy like Jagger gets to grow to be a senior citizen without ever having to answer for the actions of his youth. Mick’s got it all, he’s always had it all, and the cosmic law that what goes around comes around, that we reap what we sow, seems not to apply here. Which gives Jagger the opportunity he’s taken full advantage of in The Man From Elysian Fields. What we get to see on screen in Jagger is the totality of what we miss in real life. Mick begins the film smirking, and while I don’t want to give away the plot, it’s safe to say that he ends the film with a different sort of look on his face.
To see Mick Jagger become older and wiser, rather than just imitate the Mick Jagger of 35 years ago is a delicious treat indeed.