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With Jim Sabatini

Two Lovers

Two Lovers
Joachim Phoenix, Vinessa Shaw, Gwneyth Paltrow and Elias Koteas

Rated: R 
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: February 13, 2009 Released by: Magnolia Pictures

Two Lovers may well be one of Joachim Phoenix's last performances on the big screen, and it's one of his finest.

This flawed, yet deeply felt romantic drama has a timeless feel in spite of the constant need to use wireless devices. James Gray's cinematic diversion from crime and corruption looks at love in a less than cutting-edge way, especially when it comes to human interaction.

Phoenix, way better here than in Reservation Road, brings interest to the insecure Leonard Kraditor. He's back to the comfortable Brighton Beach area, needing a little parental support in their dry-cleaning business, while he maintains an interest in photography.

Gray and Richard Menello provide a sensible script (inspired by Dostoevsky's "White Nights") and the production allows for Brooklyn and Manhattan locations to stand out in ways that give more dimension to the melodrama.

Vinessa Shaw, nicely plays against type as Sandra Cohen, the Jewish daughter of a family friend, who begins to show feelings for Leonard as their families are about to undergo a business merger. Her favorite film happens to be The Sound of Music which she thinks is "underrated".

New neighbor Michelle, a tall blond not seeming to be in great health, played by Gwneyth Paltrow (Iron Man), mesmerizes Leonard. After Leonard tags along with her and some gal pals for some nighttime euphoria, he learns that she's in a relationship with a married rich businessman, acted with emotional edge by Elias Koteas, who makes her life rather comfortable.

Two Lovers unfolds to a rather heartfelt, wrenching state, and is rarely prosaic thanks to the multi-faceted portrait of Leonard. Phoenix almost evinces a creepy quality while having that innocent cheekiness that works well opposite Paltrow who captures the qualities of a manipulative, alluring woman like Michelle. The coda may be falsely hopeful for some who may not receive the desired payoff, yet overrall this deliberate, gritty throwback which may not muster more than limited appeal locks into a difficult decision with bruising poignancy.

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