With such a great cast, this movie should have been spectacular. However, the story was laid out in such a peculiar manner that it was a challenge to divine what happened to the wife who supposedly disappeared. The story takes place initially in Cambridge, England and later in Milan, Italy.
Peter (Liam Neeson) accesses his wife’s internet messages which clearly implicate her in an extramarital affair. We are given to believe in the beginning that Lisa (played by Laura Linney) is on a business trip to Italy for her company which designs and sells expensive high fashion shoes. We are made to wonder why Lisa would document this affair, complete with pictures, which could easily be hacked by a clever computer technician. In fact, her husband Peter is a software engineer.
Peter is so obsessed with learning the details of this romance that he searches further to find out where this lover, named Ralph, lives. Ralph, of course, is the suave Antonio Banderas who has apparently seduced Peter’s wife over a long period of time. Against his daughter Abigail’s wishes, Peter flies to Milan to find Ralph with the possibility of confronting him.
Peter does locate Ralph in Milan and follows him to a café which conveniently has tables equipped with chess boards for those who wish to play chess while dining. Peter is invited by Ralph to a game of chess during which Ralph tells Peter about his love affair.
I hesitate to reveal the plot but it is so outlandishly contrived that I must comment on it. First, Peter, feigning friendship towards his competitor, discovers that Ralph is actually a janitor and not the idle aristocrat he portrays himself as. Using Lisa’s cell phone, Peter texts a message to Ralph, supposedly from Lisa, to meet him in Lake Como in Italy, the romantic spot where they always rendevous. Ralph is ecstatic and tells Peter that he is planning to be with his lover.
Peter shows up, of course, rather than Lisa, and finally admits to Ralph that he is Lisa’s husband. He also tells Ralph – and the movie audience – that Lisa has died from a long bout with cancer. We are then informed of the credibility of this revelation through flashbacks which show Peter caring for Lisa through her illness.
If the audience had known this from the beginning, of course there would be no staggering tale to tell. I do not think this is reason enough to lead the viewer along so playfully. The film is based on a short story by a German writer, Bernhard Schlink; therefore, one is left to wonder whether the film matched the original intent of the short story.
You might as well hear that the ending is even more incomprehensible than the events leading up to it. The last few scenes take place at a memorial dinner for Lisa given by Peter. Ralph is present as one of the honored guests. How different from real life is this scenario. I am left with the sense that the cast must have been embarrassed to be connected with the film.