Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Two Lovers

 
 
 

Review by David Tredler

Actors talk about the difficulty of being typecast. It may be different for filmmakers, as they are creators, and initiators of craftworks, but in the mind of the audience, some genre changes surprise, and disconcert.

In 13 years, James Gray had only directed three feature films, all of which were swimming in the noir genre waters… all three films being at worst excellent, at best remarkable. He also took time between each movie, no less than six years. One year after We Own the Night, though, Gray is back quickly with a fourth feature, one that has nothing to do with either cops or mobsters.

I was among the first surprised, and a bit disappointed I must confess, that Gray suddenly, hastily shot a romantic drama starring Gwyneth Paltrow. And yet the rumor from Cannes was stating that Gray might have directed his most beautiful picture yet. I would not dare to compare the director’s masterpieces, but one thing that is obvious in my mind is that indeed, Two Lovers is one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema that was crafted those past few months. To tell you the truth, I consider it to be the best American film I saw in 2008.

Two Lovers centers on Leonard, a thirty-something man currently living in his old Brooklyn neighborhood. The film opens on Leonard’s unsuccessful suicidal attempt.  The man obviously lives a severe depression, which is why he lives with his parents, parents who want him to settle down and to this end, present to him the beautiful Sandra, the daughter of friends of theirs.  But in the same time, Leonard meets Michelle. Michelle is a beautiful, joyful neighbor with whom Leonard quickly becomes infatuated. But the problem is, Michelle is in love with a married man.

If you saw James Gray’s previous films, you probably do not recognize Gray’s touch in this pitch. Yet onscreen, the director’s style is there; namely, his ability to take an apparently simple, contemporary story, and turn it into something unexpected. Turn it into a tragedy worthy of William Shakespeare.

There is no story more told and seen than the one of love and its troubles. Than the one of a man torn between two women. Than the one of a man hesitating on the path to choose. James Gray embraces all of this and makes it a heartbreaking drama, so dark, so sad, so beautiful. He makes it a tale of hope, desire, loss, despair. With his steady camera, his intense eye, he observes the game of love as if it was a police suspense that could only end in tears.

There are films that use beauty to lift up your heart. Two Lovers is the opposite, he uses beauty to tear it down. Joaquin Phoenix recently announced that he quit acting, making Two Lovers his final appearance in a feature film. How can we accept that, when his latest performance stands out as his best ever? Let’s hope James Gray will persuade him to come back.

5 / 5 stars

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