Director: James Gray
A depressed young man moves back in with his parents and finds his life turned upside down as he struggles to choose between the beautiful daughter of a close family friend and the scintillating but volatile next-door neighbor whose passion helps to reignite his lust for life. The third screen outing for writer/director James Gray and actor Joaquin Phoenix following We Own the Night and The Yards.
Directing a movie is all about establishing and maintaining a consistent tone. When the editing, art direction, and cinematography all complement each other -- and when the actors understand how subtly they need to play each scene -- that's when a filmmaker has greatness within reach. James Gray achieves just that with Two Lovers because he tells a story of emotionally operatic proportion in the tone of a gentle whisper.
Phoenix drives the movie with a remarkable performance as a simple man who's as torn apart by his passions as he is compelled to act on them. Taking advantage of the nuances in the script, Phoenix plays all of these internal struggles without resorting to James Dean-inspired brooding. Phoenix reveals the depth of Leonard's pain in the character's everyday conversations.
The entire story practically begs for scenes with huge cathartic upheavals -- the kind of scenes that make their way into Oscar highlight reels -- but instead Gray plays everything close to the vest because he knows that's exactly what his characters would do. (110 mins.)
My Rating: ***