Leo (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner08/03/2004


Two out of Five stars
Running time: 104 mins

Impressively shot, but ultimately rather flat drama that’s too self-consciously clever to really engage, despite some decent performances.

Arriving on our screens some two years after it was made (never a good sign) is director Mehdi Norowzian’s debut Leo, a self-consciously literary drama starring Joseph Fiennes (who, let’s face it, after Rancid Aluminium, Dust and Killing Me Softly, could really use a hit, but this won’t be it) and Elisabeth Shue. (If you were wondering ‘Whatever happened to Elisabeth Shue?’, the answer is that after making this film she took a year off filming but has two films due this year. So now you know.)

Quiet Murderer And Unfaithful Wife

Joseph Fiennes plays Stephen, a quiet young man who’s released from prison after serving 15 years for murder. He’s given a job in a roadside diner, under the watchful eye of the owner, Vic (Sam Shepherd) and spends his evenings studiously writing in his journal. Stephen is attracted to one of the waitresses, Caroline (Deborah Unger), but, unfortunately for him, one of the regulars just happens to be Nasty Mr Dennis Hopper (as Horace), who also has his eye on her…

Meanwhile, in an interweaving plot-line, Elisabeth Shue plays Molly Bloom, an English graduate married to her ex-professor. When she thinks her husband has been unfaithful she has an ill-advised fling with the local handyman Ryan (Justin Chambers) and is then wracked with guilt when her husband and daughter are killed in an accident.

As the years pass, she becomes an embittered alcoholic, locked into an abusive relationship with Ryan and doing a terrible job of raising her son, Leo (Davis Sweat), who she blames for her rotten life because he symbolises her infidelity.

Not As Clever As It Believes

The main problem with the film is that it isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is; the over-riding impression is that the writer Massy Tadjedin, who, tellingly, also produced read James Joyce’s Ulysses one too many times (the source for the names Leo Bloom, Molly Bloom and Stephen). Similarly, the publicity for the film indicates that the manner in which the two story strands link together is meant to be some sort of surprise twist, but it’s blatantly obvious within 20 minutes, so when it finally happens, the impact is severely diminished.

The other problem is that the cross-cutting works against the film in that you don’t get enough time to really care about the characters, so scenes that would benefit from being strung out often feel truncated, and lack emotional weight.

That said, the cinematography is gorgeous (courtesy of Zubin Mistry) and the performances are fine, particularly Deborah Unger, who conveys more pain and suffering in a single look than Shue does in her entire performance. It’s also fun to see Dennis Hopper back in Blue Velvet gibbering psycho mode again, though he’s only in a few scenes.

In short, Leo promises more than it can really deliver – it’s watchable enough, but ultimately never hits its emotional targets.

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Content updated: 19/07/2018 05:04

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