YEAR: 2002

ROLE:  Vic

DIRECTOR:  Mehdi Norowzian

UK RELEASE DATE:  March 12, 2004

 

Plot Summary

Mary Bloom (Elisabeth Shue) is a woman haunted by her tragic past. Under the misguided belief that her husband had betrayed her, she has an affair with a handsome, young handyman (Justin Chambers) and becomes pregnant with his child. After her husband is killed in a car crash, Mary descends into despair and grows to hate the boy she bears, Leo Bloom (Davis Sweatt). Eleven years later, Leo, a quiet, withdrawn child finds solace in his books and his correspondence with a convict, Stephen (Joseph Fiennes) who he begins writing to for a class assignment. Meanwhile, Mary re-marries a violent man who in turn drives Leo to murder as he tries to protect his mother. Leo is sent to jail by his own mother's testimony. Having served his sentence, Stephen gets out of jail and begins to try to put his life back together. He yearns to atone for his crime and relies on his communication with young Leo to exorcise his demons. Soon Stephen embarks on a journey to meet the boy whose words were his ultimate lifeline.

 
Film Details
Joseph FIENNES....................Stephen
Elizabeth SHUE.................Mary Bloom
Justin CHAMBERS...........Ryan Eames
Deborah Kara UNGER............Caroline
Mary Stuart MASTERSON.......Brynne
Dennis HOPPER.......................Horace
Screenplay.......Massy & Amir Tadjedan
Cinematography.................Zubin Mistry
Music..................................Mark Adler
Length.................................104 minutes Rated..................................................R
DVD release....................May 18, 2004
 
Interview with Sam
 

Q: What appealed to you about the part?

A: It was an interesting combo of southern gothic, weirdo Faulkner stuff and contemporary realism... styles and characteristics you donít find too much. Somehow it avoids the clichťs and yet it embraces them at the same time.

Q: How did you find working with Dennis Hopper?

A:  Fantastic. It was great. I wish we could have done more things togther. Like a brother. Like a crazy brother.  Or a crazy uncle (laughing).

Q:  How do you pick your roles Ė writer or director?

A:  Well, sometimes I just need a job. (laughing) I would like to be able to say I have the luxury of picking my material but sometimes I need the work. But it would be great to pick and choose. I pick and choose as much as I can but sometimes you canít be too picky.

Q:  You've known Dennis Hopper since 1969. Is this your first time working with him?

A:  I always wanted to work with him but it just never came up.  I was in a rock níroll band back in the sixties called the Holy Modal Rounders and they used one of our tunes for "Easy Rider" called "If you want to be a bird" where Jack (Nicholson) gets on the back of the motorcycle with his football helmet and rolls down the highway. That tune is our song so I actually met Dennis by that route. 

Q:  How did you find working with Joseph Fiennes?

A:  The thing about Joe thatís so wonderful is that he has this open quality about him thatís absolutely genuine so when youíre acting with him, you never feel that anything is being manipulated. Itís malleable.  Itís something that begins to happen because of his openness. I think heís a wonderful actor.

Q:  Do you prefer working on independent films or blockbusters?

A:  I love independent films. Thatís the way I started out. Itís the real bloodstream of filmmaking. Thatís where itís at. But now and then, the big budget films come along and you get the chance to work with big stars and why not....

Q:  Is there a difference working on independent films?

A:  I think itís almost always more frustrating in some ways. Itís more chaotic. Thereís more pressure on time. Youíre squeezed a lot more because of the money. On the other hand, I think things get done simply because of that pressure. The immediacy of getting it done calls up a sort of bravado for everyone Ė youí ve got to get this thing done. Although it can cause tempers to fly, you still get good work done as opposed to the luxury of a $40 to 50 million dollar movie where they spend three weeks on a scene that we do in a half of day.  That doesnít make any sense.

Q:  Does working on independent films allow you to be more creative?

A:  I think freedom comes from an internal thing of being able to allow yourself to be open and whether or not the budget and production make that happen, I'm not quite sureÖ. It depends more on the people youíre working with Ė the director and other actorsÖ

Q: As a writer and director, do you bring these skills with you to acting?

A:  You always have your antenna up. Itís great to be able to learn stuff. Thereís always areas where you can learn stuff especially from people who have experience. You learn a lot more if youíre willing to not think that you know everything. (laughing) If you think Iíve got more experience than the next guy, you wonít learn anything that way. You end up not being able to take anything in.

 
Production Notes
Filmed in Charleston, South Carolina and Oxford, Mississippi between February and April 2002.
 
 
Film Festivals
Toronto International Film Festival - September 11, 2002
Santa Barbara Film Festival - March 7, 2003
Method Fest Independent Film Festival - April 17, 2003
Dublin Film Festival - February 15, 2004
 
Images
 
 
Reviews

Amber Wilkinson, Eye for Film:
Zubin Mistry's cinematography is terrific, with each scene drenched in quality, while the tensions running beneath the surface are as taught as Mary's emotions...  The plot simmers along nicely, dipping and weaving between the two storylines with grace and style. Towards the climax, however, it becomes overboiled, as cracks in the less well-defined characters start to show and attempts by the director to look clever overtake the action. While the film has flaws, they aren't fatal and there is no doubt that you'll be thinking about it long after the credits roll.

Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter:
The script by Amir Tadjedin and Massy Tadjedin offers penetrating observations about the cruelty of a mother tormented by guilt and the survival instincts of a child forced to grow up too fast. But by expending so much energy obscuring the connection between the two story lines, it denies viewers a deeper involvement with the characters. Despite the story's strengths and impressive widescreen lensing, the film's theatrical prospects look limited...  Shepard is well-cast as the tough, mystical proprietor who believes in the curative powers of the Bible and shepherd's pie.

Matthew Turner, View London:
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. Itís also fun to see Dennis Hopper back in "Blue Velvet" gibbering psycho mode again, though heís only in a few scenes.

Video Vista:
It's a curious and rewarding film about the evolution and destruction of character...The diner, incidentally, is run by an excellently played manager (Sam Shepard), a man who is paralysed by the expectations placed on him by his own religious beliefs.

Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall:
It looks gorgeous, and the editing between the two strands is coherent and ingenious, contrasting the sunny domesticity of Mary's early life with Stephen's more impressionistic experience and then Mary's descent into paranoia, guilt and, of course, alcoholism. It's intriguing and extremely enticing, with symbolic gusts of wind and shafts of light showing the emotional impact of various events. And the cast is good at drawing us in as well.

Total Film:
Taking its cues from the light-saturated and repressed world of Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas", "Leo" is a downbeat drama that tackles themes of regret, betrayal and loss. In its best moments it looks stunning, the dreamlike visuals lending a mesmerising quality. Full marks to first-time helmer Mehdi Norowzian and DoP Zubin Mistry for establishing mood, then. Now if only the split-narrative script and characterisation were a match for the visual atmospherics. Instead, too much here is self-consciously literary - everything's clever and distancing when it should be heartfelt and affecting.

BBC:
Breathless, hot, and clammy, watching "Leo" is like spending a summer night in the rural Deep South of America. That's the setting for this torturous tale, told in flashbacks and flashforwards, which follows two seemingly unconnected characters who discover that their lives are inextricably intertwined....Artful to the point of being arsy, it's occasionally absorbing, but sometimes stultifying. Blessed with some masterful acting, this distinctly literary drama wears its highbrow credentials on its sleeve with a series of subtle (and not so subtle) references to James Joyce's hernia-inducing tome Ulysses. While Fiennes is brilliantly messianic in the title role, the film belongs to Shue. This is easily her best performance since she watched Nicolas Cage drink himself to death in "Leaving Las Vegas".

Uncut:
Debut Brit director Mehdi Norowzian lets the twin stories simmer in the Mississippi heat, and draws out perfect performances. Shue seizes the chance to equal her performance in "Leaving Las Vegas" as a mother whose heart is torn out by frustration and guilt, making her a tragic monster. Fiennes is almost retardedly repressed, while Hopper is at his most poisonous since "Paris Trout". A fascinating fable.

Time Out:
This accomplished feature debut from award-winning ad director Mehdi Norowzian is an atmospheric and visually stunning film that never sacrifices content for style... Never rushing its narrative, the film gives us plenty of time to absorb these intricate personalities, gradually introducing the theme of resistance (or otherwise) to the cruelty of chance.

Film4.com:
British director Medhi Norowzian successfully builds the basis of this dual narrative, moving smoothly and coherently between characters, slowly dropping in clues as to how these tales are linked. Zubin Mistry's cinematography, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Conrad Hall's work on "American Beauty". While Norowzian has assembled a fabulous cast, it's Elisabeth Shue's performance as the frustrated and tormented Mary that really stands out... Norowzian has crafted an intelligent and accomplished debut, which becomes caught up in its own structure towards the end, but is ultimately a satisfying experience.

Screen One:
This mesmerizing and intriguing tale of two parallel lives, take characters from James Joyceís Ulysses and places them in the southern American states. This absorbing and compelling story of human tragedy and how it reverberates through future generations is packed with breathtaking performances from an all-star cast, making this film gripping entertainment at its best!

Pixelsurgeon.com:
The well-stocked cast, at first appearing to be nothing more than a (clever) marketing ploy ultimately ends up as the filmís most redeeming feature. Joseph Fiennes is subtle and contemplative, walking the fine line twixt dull and kooky while Elisabeth Shue pulls off a similar trick being believably affected by the bum hand sheís been dealt without ever becoming too weepy or too psycho-crazy. The supporting players aquit themselves well being solid and believable when the direction allows. A special note has to be made about Dennis Hopper and Sam Shepherd, both of whom are playing roles their faces have almost become shorthand for: Hopper is pleasingly mad, dangerous and mean (not quite Paris Trout mad, dangerous and mean, but definitely mad, dangerous and mean in that inimitable Hopper style), meanwhile Sam Shepard is troubled and hard but in the end reveals himself to be good and fair.