Combustible Celluloid
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With: Elizabeth Banks, Glenn Close, James Marsden, Jesse Bradford, George Segal, Eric Bogosian, Matthew Davis, Andrew Howard, Thomas Lennon, John Light, Susan Malick, Michael Murphy, Denis O'Hare, Isabella Rossellini, Rufus Wainwright
Written by: Amy Fox, Chris Terrio
Directed by: Chris Terrio
MPAA Rating: R for language, brief sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 93
Date: 03/18/2013

Heights (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Love Hurts in 'Heights'

By Rob Blackwelder, SPLICEDwire

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A deft ensemble drama with a hard emotional veracity reflecting the complexity that sexual histories impose on modern relationships, Heights takes place over 24 hours that prove unexpectedly pivotal to each of its of cross-pollinating Manhattan lives.

At the center of one of the film's concentric social circles is Isabel (Elizabeth Banks, Seabiscuit, Catch Me If You Can), an aspiring photographer, stuck in a rut of wedding assignments. Her engagement to handsome young lawyer Jonathan (James Marsden) is tempered by subtle undercurrents of uncertainty that may be tested by a pining ex-boyfriend's offer of a dream assignment for a prestigious news magazine.

Isabel's mother Diana (Glenn Close) -- a blunt, outwardly self-confident, highly respected stage actress and theater professor at Julliard -- is the hub of another, upper-crust conclave. Her quite liberal open marriage has taken its toll on her psychological buoyancy (and her daughter's views of fidelity), especially in the wake of her husband's current philandering with her own understudy from a Broadway production of Macbeth.

Around these two women revolve several men whose secret pasts and present relationships collide in one evening's revelations, upsetting the tenuous balance of their hearts. Among them are a journalist (John Light) writing a Vanity Fair profile of his famous-photographer boyfriend and discovering the man has a parasitical sexual history that includes other major characters, and a struggling young gay actor (Jesse Bradford) who makes a large impression in an audition for Diana, and who happens to live downstairs from Isabel.

Adapted by playwright Amy Fox from her own stage production, and beefed up with "additional screenplay material" by director Chris Terrio, the film has a vérité style and handsomely cold blue-gray cinematography that helps give its dampened, sometimes stylized emotions visceral substance.

Of course, the effectiveness of those feelings has even more to do with the cast, which is uniformly genuine -- even those playing against their more Hollywoody type like Marsden (best known for the rather hollow Cyclops in the X-Men movies) and Bradford (best known for teen fair like Swimfan and Bring It On). But it's Banks and Close who carry the picture with nuanced performances that tap mother-daughter animosity and -- in different ways -- each character's anxiety that stems from subconsciously knowing their lives may not really be going as planned.

Despite its strengths, Heights is not a red-meat movie that will stick with you long, and it has its nagging imperfections -- Banks lacks credibility as a photographer because she doesn't know how to hold a camera, and the rarefied lifestyles of many characters makes it harder to identify with them. But Terrio's ability to get to the gut of how sex can fuel love or obliterate it makes the film compelling to watch.

Best Buy Co, Inc.