As the summer blockbuster season fades, the movie industry now moves into the end-of-the-year serious mode in which Academy Award-caliber films are released.
One of the early contenders has to be Elegy, based upon the Philip Roth short novel, The Dying Animal.
Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz lead a talented cast that includes Dennis Hopper, Patricia Clarkson and Peter Sarsgaard. The movie’s explorations of the complexities of love and sex ultimately provide a somber tone despite some witty observations by the Hopper character, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet George O’Hearn.
The script was written by Nicholas Meyer, who previously adapted the Roth novel The Human Stain featuring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman. Meyer likely is more known to Trekkies for writing two of my favorite “Star Trek” movies, “The Wrath of Khan” and “The Voyage Home.”
Kingsley could be lining himself up for another Oscar nomination (he won for Gandhi back in 1983 and was nominated for best supporting actor for “Sexy Beast” in 2000) as David Kepesh, a cultural critic and college teacher who prides himself on his independence and ability to bed women without commitment. He left behind a wife and family long before, and for years has maintained a strictly sexual relationship with Carolyn (Clarkson), a 40-something woman who stops by in between business trips to have a few nights of uncomplicated physical workouts.
Kepesh’s life takes an unexpected turn when he meets Consuela Castillo (Cruz), one of his students. Having worked in a law firm for a while before going to college, she is a bit older than most of Kepesh’s students. Naturally, her beauty really puts the hook into him. He engages his patented charm and intelligence upon her, hoping to woo her into bed. It works, but something else kicks in. After years of being able to extricate himself from these sexual entanglements, he finds himself becoming possessive of Consuela and obsessed with the belief she will dump him for a younger man – the confident, youthful person that Kepesh used to be. Suddenly, this sophisticated guy is following her around, thinking up all these scenarios in which she is seeing other men.
In addition, Kepesh must deal with his grown son, Kenneth (Sarsgaard), who still is embittered about Kepesh abandoning his family. Kepesh insists that the marriage was a mistake and getting out of it was best for all in the long run.
Cruz is remarkable as Consuela, and if she does not end up with an Academy Award for this performance, or for her work in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” I will be very surprised. While Consuela enchants Kepesh, she is grounded enough to step back and view their relationship accurately. She pretty much renders Kepesh mute when she challenges him on just where he thinks he is going with her.
Hopper as O’Hearn, Kepesh’s only friend, does his best work since his Oscar-nominated role in “Hoosiers.” While Kepesh claims to be the realist, O’Hearn is the one with the more practical view of things. In a way, O’Hearn’s sage advice to Kepesh helps him come to terms with his own listless marriage to Amy (Deborah Harry).
It is sad when Kepesh almost in desperation tries to deepen his relationship with Carolyn, who dismisses his effort with “why start now?”
The tragedy of Elegy is that Kepesh realizes in his later years that he has built a existence around himself that is nothing more than a wall that prevents him from pursuing a more meaningful life. Consuela ends up as the teacher here, by doing nothing more than being a beautiful and smart woman who loves him despite his age and his flaws.
Elegy is directed beautifully by Isabel Coixet, a native of Spain. Meyer’s script does get a bit confusing with a murky timeline, but the overall effect is a superbly acted and touching film. All the main characters enjoy at least one showcased scene revealing their very human frailties and strengths.
Source: Pasadena Star-News
Slipstream • Sep. 15, 2008
The actors in this film are amazing. Its’ a film I could watch again and again just because of the performances. Dennis Hopper is great. I wish the others would take a leaf out of Hopper’s book and get their voices recorded by Navtones so I could have them on my GPS. I just got Hopper’s voice and other cool celebrities as the voice on my GPS at Navtones.com. It’s awesome and I recommend it, just like this film.
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