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Heights (2005)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
Drama, Ensemble Film, Urban Drama
Chris Terrio Chris Terrio
Chandler Williams Chandler Williams
Bess Wohl Bess Wohl
Glenn Close Glenn Close
Elizabeth Banks Elizabeth Banks
James Marsden James Marsden

7.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: August 06, 2005
These kind of ensemble dramas are what made Robert Altman and Lawrence Kasdan the cinematic juggernauts they are today. The formulas are usually similar -- you take a group of established actors, give them a common theme, and watch as they intersect and interact with one another for a couple of hours. The outcome is not always so good. "Short Cuts" and "Grand Canyon" are two examples of when the formula worked to perfection. "Dr. T & the Women" and "Dreamcatcher" are examples of how that formula failed. Sure, those are only examples of Altman and Kasdan, but they do prove one very true point -- a good ensemble drama is only as good as its weakest link. Fortunately for "Heights", a weak link does not exist. And, if it does, it is still so engaging that we don't really notice how weak it is. "Heights" is one of those films that starts out slow, moves along slow, and finishes slow, but still somehow manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. It was one of the best films I have seen all year long, and the best ensemble drama to come along since "Crash". Both films are similar, actually -- alas, while "Crash" dealt with racism, "Heights" deals with something else entirely...something called love.

There are five people at the center of this ensemble. Isabel (Elizabeth Banks) and Jonathan (James Marsden) are engaged to be married. Isabel is an aspiring photographer, and Jonathan is a successful attorney. Glenn Close stars as Diana Lee, one of the most popular actresses in the world, who is also Isabel's mother. She is starring in a production of "Macbeth" and is starting to have second thoughts about her lassez faire relationship with her husband. During an audition, she meets a young man named Alec (Jesse Bradford), who sparks her interest. What she does not know is that Alec is actually gay, and is secretly seeing her daughter's fiance. John Light completes the ensemble as Peter, who is writing an article for Vanity Fair about a world renowned photographer. His job is to interview all of the subject's ex-boyfriends. By the end of the film, we realize how all of these characters connect, some more so than others. We are also introduces to several supporting characters, like Ian (Andrew Howard), a party guest who strikes Isabel's fancy, and Henry (Eric Bogosian), a director who serves as Diana's shoulder on which to cry her eyes out. All of these characters interact, relate, and serve one another.

In an ensemble drama, the performances have to be solid. "Heights" has it all sewn up. Most of the actors involved here are not the Altman caliber actors, but they are strong, sobering, and slightly more effective. Glenn Close lends her weight to the film in a very interesting role. We see Diana as not the typical actress diva, but more of a thoughtful woman -- a lover of Shakespeare and her daughter, who flirts with younger men to make herself feel better. Elizabeth Banks delivers a lovely performance as Isabel, and has some nice scenes at the end between she and Jonathan. The ensemble players like George Segal, Eric Bogosian, Isabella Rossellini, and Andrew Howard provide marvelous support, but James Marsden is really the one true revelation in the picture. He reveals acting chops we didn't know existed. His transformation from the man we see at the beginning of the film to the man we see standing outside the door at the end is gorgeous to watch. Also credit Jesse Bradford for taking such a thankless role and running with it. I cannot really pinpoint a single missed performance, and might go so far as to say that the ensemble here slightly bested the ensemble of "Crash", as a whole.

In addition to the sterling performances, the film runs on kinetic dialogue and exposition. One of the central characters of the film is the photographer, Benjamin Stone. We never see him. We never hear him. We learn from several supporting actors of how terrible he is as a person, and we feel like we know him. We also start to see as to how the mere mentioning of his name can change lives. One of my favorite scenes in the film is at the end, when Isabel catches Jonathan and Alec kissing on the roof of the building. Her handling of the situation is just what both she and Jonathan want to hear, without ever being able to admit it previously -- "I thought -- thank you -- for giving me a way out". I had no doubt that both would go on to live quite content lives, without the other. There is another amazing scenes involving Glenn Close, where she gets the chance to rant to a group of college students about the passion of Shakespeare. If there is any actress that can make it seem entirely truthful, she is the one. In many ways, "Heights" is a modern Shakespearean drama, so it would seem.

"Heights" is a fine motion picture, and a true experience for the senses. The characters are rich, full, and totally engaging, and we are always kept wanting more. James Marsden is absolutely gorgeous on screen, and his acting now matches his outward visage. In a year where we have been given the miracle of "Crash", it is nice to see that similar, yet smaller scale productions, can pack the same impact. Both films are unique and both films are beautiful, but both present similar fronts and provide similar relief. "Heights" is more exposition than anything else, but sometimes that can be better than witty banter or cars flying through the air. In a Summer of explosions, "Heights" is a cool shade. NOTE TO THE ACADEMY: James Marsden delivers a performance not to be overlooked when voting time comes around. The cool thing to do will be to give Glenn Close the nod because she is Glenn Close -- go ahead. She deserves it too...just not as much as Cyclops.

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Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg #1: Kari Byron's Sex Cyborg - added 05/26/2007, 12:45 AM
I'm sure there are a bunch of people who find trouble with the pacing as well as a lot who don't feel much at all going on, but I'm one who can really get into it. There's certainly nothing too original going on in this movie, yet the way it's elegantly featured amongst the glowing performances stands out to me.
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