2 items from 2003
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet will star in the lead roles in Gregg Araki's indie drama Mysterious Skin. The project, which is currently lensing in Los Angeles, will also star Elisabeth Shue, Michelle Trachtenberg, Bill Sage, Jeff Licon, Chris Mulkey, Billy Drago, Richard Riehle and Mary Lynn Rajskub. Based on the novel by Scott Heim, the project is the story of two boys who meet when they are 18 and discover a common past that has shaped both of them in different ways. The story takes place in New York City and Kansas. Shue plays the mother of Gordon-Levitt's character, Trachtenberg portrays his best friend, Sage stars as a baseball coach, Licon plays a friend of both boys at different times, and Mulkey portrays the father of Corbet's character. Drago plays one of the characters in New York City, Riehle plays one of the Kansas characters, and Rasjkub portrays a woman from whom Corbet's character needs help. »
Two parallel stories generate mystery and sparks in "Leo", a well-written drama of psychological depth but diminishing returns. The feature debut of helmer Mehdi Norowzian, whose short "Killing Joe" was nominated for an Oscar in 2000, features steamy Southern atmospherics and strong performances from Elisabeth Shue and Joseph Fiennes.
The script by Amir Tadjedin and Massy Tadjedin offers penetrating observations about the cruelty of a mother tormented by guilt and the survival instincts of a child forced to grow up too fast. But by expending so much energy obscuring the connection between the two story lines, it denies viewers a deeper involvement with the characters. Despite the story's strengths and impressive widescreen lensing, the film's theatrical prospects look limited.
At the heart of the mystery is Stephen (Fiennes), a murderer released from Mississippi State Prison whom Fiennes infuses with the equanimity and inward gaze of a strange saint. He goes to work at a diner that feels like an archetypal purgatory of stunted souls, complete with Sam Shepard and Dennis Hopper.
Shepard is well-cast as the tough, mystical proprietor who believes in the curative powers of the Bible and shepherd's pie. Hopper is diner regular Horace, a wild-eyed bully who keeps waitress Caroline Deborah Kara Unger) under his thumb and takes particular delight in taunting Stephen.
Hopper is so good at playing -- and by now so identified with -- sadistic freaks that his presence here is something of a distraction and feels out of proportion to the low-key proceedings. Through no fault of Unger's, who does her best with a slim role, the put-upon Caroline is less a character than a type, a weathered waif who incites Stephen's need to save someone. In this waiting station on his road to redemption, he opens up to Caroline and fellow ex-con Louis (James Middleton), but his chief outlet is the lined pages he fills all night.
The nature of Stephen's writing project slowly emerges as his story is intercut with the unhappy tale of Mary (Shue), who's raising a toddler girl while suffocating in her marriage to an Ole Miss professor (Jake Weber). She flinches at the insincere niceties of genteel Southern academia and easily falls prey to the malicious intrusions of one of the faculty wives (Amie Quigley) -- an overage 1950s sorority sister with her cardigans, pearls and casseroles. Stricken by doubt and jealousy, Mary begins her downward spiral when she turns a tentative flirtation with a hunky house painter (Justin Chambers) into something a lot less tentative.
Shue delivers a finely calibrated portrait of a sensuous, book-smart woman whose emotional delicacy traps her in tragedy, where she punishes herself and everyone around her. In what may be a comment on the character's inertia but mainly feels like an odd lapse from the film's realistic tone, the self-destructive Mary never ages over an 18-year period.
There are plenty of luminous and affecting moments in "Leo", especially when Shue is onscreen, but after so much emphasis on creating a puzzle, the resolution of its dual narrative doesn't pack the intended punch, being neither altogether surprising or dramatically satisfying.
Gold Circle Films
A Freewheel/Joy/Scala production
Director: Mehdi Norowzian
Screenwriters: Amir Tadjedin, Massy Tadjedin
Executive producers: Nik Powell, Derek Roy, Sara Giles
Director of photography: Zubin Mistry
Production designer: Stefania Cella
Music: Mark Adler
Costume designer: Jacqueline West
Editor: Tariq Anwar
Stephen: Joseph Fiennes
Mary: Elisabeth Shue
Ryan: Justin Chambers
Caroline: Deborah Kara Unger
Ben: Jake Weber
Leo: Davis Sweatt
Vic: Sam Shepard
Horace: Dennis Hopper
Brynne: Mary Stuart Masterson
Louis: James Middleton
Ruth: Amie Quigley
Running time -- 103 minutes
No MPAA rating »
2 items from 2003
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