Far From Heaven (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner03/03/2003

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 107 mins

Beautifully acted, sumptuously photographed melodrama from director Todd Haynes – if Julianne Moore doesn’t win the Best Actress Oscar there is, officially, no justice.

Director Todd Haynes’ previous films include the disappointing Velvet Goldmine and Safe, a little-seen oddity, also starring Julianne Moore, that is well worth seeking out. Here, however, he moves squarely into the big leagues with a film that is nothing short of astonishing.

Taking direct inspiration from the colourful 1950s melodramas of director Douglas Sirk, Haynes has crafted the kind of film that Sirk himself would have made were it not for the restrictions of the time. He’s aided by a trio of terrific performances from his stars, with Julianne Moore deservedly picking up an Oscar nomination for her role.

Dark Secrets And Confiding In Gardeners

The film is set in affluent Connecticut in the 1950s. Moore stars as Cathy Whittaker, a mother and housewife who discovers that her all-American husband (Dennis Quaid) has a dark secret. She seeks solace in a friendship with her black gardener Raymond Deagan (played by Dennis ‘24’ Haysbert) but tongues soon start wagging and she finds herself on the verge of becoming a social outcast.

Haynes has effectively combined the themes of two of Sirk’s most famous films, All That Heaven Allows (Jane Wyman falls for gardener Rock Hudson) and Imitation of Life (the daughter of Lana Turner’s black housekeeper tries to pass as white), only Haynes is allowed to show and say what Sirk could only hint at.

The effect is unusual (it’s shocking to hear Quaid swear, for example) and gives a strong sense of reality that contrasts with the colourful, glossy, somehow ‘unreal’ setting.

Stunning Performances

The acting is wonderful. Julianne Moore gives a magnificent, note-perfect performance that is both complex and extremely moving – you keenly sense her frustration at the social conventions that prevent her from doing what she knows is right. Similarly, Dennis Quaid gives a career-best performance as the outwardly respectable husband crumbling under the weight of his guilty secret. (He was criminally overlooked in the Oscar nominations).

There’s also great support from Patricia Clarkson (also overlooked at the Oscars – as were both film and director) as Cathy’s gossipy best friend and Haysbert, who underplays brilliantly as Raymond.

Stylistically, the film is flawless, from the lush romantic score by Elmer Bernstein to the breathtakingly beautiful cinematography by Ed Lachman. Even the credits replicate those of a 1950s melodrama, which will give an added thrill to fans of the genre.

To sum up, then, this is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year and is definitely worth seeing. Superbly acted and beautifully directed, Far From Heaven is, quite simply, heavenly. Highly recommended.

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Far From Heaven (12A)
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Content updated: 14/12/2017 14:49

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