"The Dying Gaul" is a stylish, nervy, neo-noir thriller that, although well received on the festival circuit this year, nearly didn't get released.

It's a good thing it did, because this smart, good-looking movie deserves an audience. For starters, it boasts a cast to die for -- Campbell Scott, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard -- in a minor-key chamber piece about a Hollywood producer (Scott), his screenwriter wife (Clarkson) and an aspiring young filmmaker (Sarsgaard) who comes into their lives and changes them forever. At first, Sarsgaard's character, still in mourning for a dead lover, is all vulnerability and artistic integrity, with Scott's sharklike producer demanding a crowd-pleasing rewrite before he agrees to take on the newbie's script. But soon enough, who's zooming -- and wooing -- whom becomes deliciously ambiguous, as all sorts of sexual and political intrigues ensue.

The estimable writer Craig Lucas has adapted his own play for his debut as a film director, and an auspicious first outing it is; "The Dying Gaul" is a small, self-contained gem of incisive writing, superb acting and rich, expressive visuals. Most of the action transpires at the sleek, flawlessly designed house of the Hollywood couple, both of whom ooze the sort of confidence and casual intimacy that only the very rich seem to be able to afford. But although their lives are as sunny as a David Hockney painting, there's nearly always, Lucas suggests, a serpent lying at the bottom of the sparkling pool.

-- Ann Hornaday

Campbell Scott, left, Patricia Clarkson and Peter Sarsgaard in the smart and stylish neo-noir "The Dying Gaul."