Friday, February 13, 2015


Directed By: James Gray 
Written By: James Gray & Ric Minello 
Cinematography: Joaquin Baca-Asay 
Editor: John Axelrad 

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Patrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rosselini, Elias Koates

Leonard Kraditor is a burned-out case, living with his immigrant parents after his fiancée left him, helping out at their Brooklyn dry cleaners, taking photographs, at loose ends, suicidal. In quick succession, he meets two women: Sandra, the daughter of his parents' business associates, frank, direct, sensual, Jewish like Leonard; and, his neighbor Michelle, mercurial, rootless, fun, blond, unattainable. Michelle is in love with a married man and cries on Leonard's shoulder; Sandra wants to save him. Is Leonard willing to risk losing Sandra's fidelity for the moments Michelle's moods swing toward him? Can this end well?

Loosely based on Fydor Dostoevsky 's 1848 short story 'White Nights'.

Though the material while at times comes off as pretentious, due to the little risks involved ends up rich as we delve deeper into the characters and story. Which he ends up making the film and material come off as very dark and cold like the weather and atmosphere that is relentless. That helps ground the picture and define the style at work.

The film plays like a powerful opera. Only without vocals and the performances aren’t enhanced as much as they are subtle. Though there is a powerful score involved that defines the mood and situations as more is said through actions and looks then dialogue.

The film is about a man who has come face to face with fate. While Gwyneth Paltrow represents fantasy. A dream future he comes close to that he can practically (and Does) taste. It is a future that also shows and offers false promises with very few confirmed returns. Though if he stays where he is the role that he has been raised for and promised, while it looks exciting and predictable. It promises true love though total unfulfillment.

Now while the film doesn’t offer up any real tragedy. It goes more for tragic. While showcasing a philosophical struggle for the character.

This is the second film that truly made me appreciate Joaquin Phoenix as an actor. Really the third if you count TO DIE FOR but it had been such a long time between that film and WALK THE LINE that it was almost forgotten and truly given up on as far as impressing me. This film really charted a resurgence for him in my mind. Him and Paltrow are both talented and usually bring out good performances. Here though they both excel and remind you of how good they can be. Both of them say so much with little to lite dialogue. Paltrow here is unhinged and sexy with a wild side that peaks out when she tries to be civil. She seems like a bird in a cage. More of a trophy to look at and own, by her married boyfriend who doesn’t even see Joaquin Phoenix as a threat and in facts wants him to watch her. Paltrow seems to enjoy playing with him and not realizing she is making him fall for her. She doesn’t do it on purpose. It is her nature more of a sport. It is a piece of her charm. Even when she flashes him it doesn’t seem deliberate but more of a spark of feeling right in the mood. As she isn’t one of my favorite acrtresses she truly brings her A Game

Gwyneth Paltrow represents desire as Phoenix becomes obsessed with her but never really tries to get to know her. Nor makes any attempt to. He lets her stay a fantasy even though she offers him plenty of chances to truly get to know her and tells him about herself. As well as he is witness to her actions and plenty of characters tell him about her problems. Yet he seems to turn a blind eye and claims how much he loves her.

She flirts with him continuously but it seems that is just her manner with all men as she seems to define herself by who she is with and never has really had to depend on herself. She has relied on men who have given her interest and told her about herself only due to her beauty and manner. She doesn’t seem so much to choose the men she goes with. Really depending on what is offered and going with the bigger better deal. She Flirts yet never seems interested in him in a more romantic nature. She just seems to consider him a friend and as they get to know one another and his desire takes over and he makes her aware of it. She accepts more out of politeness and seeing it as a new adventure and experience. Rather than actual feelings. The film presents her as volatile, Uncontrollable yet fun. She represents getting away, moving away, Desire and living your dreams.

Vinessa Shaw who is the nice girl represents Staying at home, stability, love, Familiarity and Family. I have been a fan of the actress since her debut LADYBUGS. It has been a joy to see her mature into more dramatic and professional roles, being taken more serious as an actress and not treated to the stunt casting of some grown up Child actors with roles in films like 3:10 TO YUMA, COLD IN JULY, 40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS, MELINDA AND MELINDA, EYES WIDE SHUT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES (REMAKE) and SIDE EFFECTS

The film stays interesting yet depressing. As in the end he chooses Paltrow and wants to run away with her, But only makes this decision as she is leaving soon. Pushed into action he devises a plan only she leaves before he can get to her and then settles for the nice girl who is totally in love with her and he only accepts her as she is the next best thing that has been offered. Yet she believes he is her ultimate choice as she knows nothing of Paltrow’s character. So while she is beyond happy. It is a happy misery more for him, which he doesn’t exactly deserve. Truthfully he deserves worse. Though this is a little torturous for him. So that it seems a little just desserts That seems more cruel for Shaw’s character. In love with a man who choose her as better than nothing

This is one of the more relatable films from James Gray who here still stays a minimalist and as usual offers up a somber mood all over it. Though here he goes from more a physical thriller to one more of emotions. The dangers those provide rather than murderous intentions. What more the small decision in life can do psychologically and physically. For once organized crime isn’t a factor here at all either as previously they are all over his films.

Though it is in the title the film is more romantic then anything sexual or sensual.

While the film exposes us to the excitement Phoenix’s character feels with Paltrow’s character as well as the familiar and romantic yet fulfilling times he has with Vinessa Shaw’s character. They are hinted at and hidden yet the film never lets the audience truly feel them as they might represent a warmness that might melt the mood of the film and bring it to another level. Leaving it to be as cold as it’s landscape though at least it feels a bit more true to life and identifiable.

Grade: A-

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