In The American Film Theatre adaptation of Simon Gray's play, Professor Ben Butley (Bates), once a brilliant, charismatic member of academia (we presume), is coming apart bit by bit. His acid tongue is his undoing, as it keeps everyone at bay — an effect he appears to intend. He's lost his wife and young child to another "boring" professor and is now busy alienating his colleague and former male lover Joey (O'Callaghan).
Want to see what really great acting looks like? Here's your film. Gray's biting play is elevated by Bates's astonishing, virtual one-man show. Secondary characters are strong, but serve mainly as figures for Butley to lacerate. Butley's disillusionment isn't all that unusual; rather, it's his unparalleled ability to channel it that amazes: as he sinks further into isolation, he singes as many people as possible. The paradox is that it's fun watching him self-immolate since he is so damned clever.