Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Stories," says ex-convict Stephen (Joseph Fiennes), as he begins a new life on the outside, "never begin where you think they do."

This is certainly true of the two interweaving tales which make up this intriguing, beautifully shot movie.

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Stephen is out to keep his nose clean, working at a diner by day and writing letters and the end of the novel he began in prison, by night. He's quiet and self-contained, seeming to ride above the tensions which abound in the diner between the owner (Sam Shepard), his wife (Deborah Unger) and the local nutjob (Dennis Hopper - playing to type), who bailed them out of money difficulties and who now thinks he owns the place and everything in it.

One of the people Stephen writes to is Leo Bloom (Davis Sweat), who inhabits the second story strand. He lives at home with his mother Mary (Elisabeth Shue) who associates his birth so deeply with a night of tragedy that she can't maintain a functional relationship with him, sinking ever deeper into the bottle and an abusive relationship, while he attempts to raise himself.

Stephen thinks he can help Leo and in so doing help himself, leading the plots to converge as the film progresses.

There is certainly plenty to commend. Zubin Mistry's cinematography is terrific, with each scene drenched in quality, while the tensions running beneath the surface are as taught as Mary's emotions.

Because of the obvious reference to James Joyce's Ulyssees - Mary names Leo after a character in the book - it would be easy to dismiss the film as purely arthouse. But, while it looks that way at times, there are strong elements of Hollywood in here, including, unfortunately, a cliched asthmatic triumph in a baseball game.

The plot simmers along nicely, dipping and weaving between the two storylines with grace and style. Towards the climax, however, it becomes overboiled, as cracks in the less well-defined characters start to show and attempts by the director to look clever overtake the action.

While the film has flaws, they aren't fatal and there is no doubt that you'll be thinking about it long after the credits roll.

Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2004
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A former convict corresponds with a lonely boy in the Deep South.
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Director: Mehdi Norowzian

Writer: Amir Tadjedin, Massy Tadjedin

Starring: Elisabeth Shue, Joseph Fiennes, Sam Shepard, Dennis Hopper, Justin Chambers, Deborah Kara Unger, Jake Weber, Mary Stuart Masterson, Davis Sweat

Year: 2003

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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