64 year old veteran Sir. Ben Kingsley and a recently revitalized Penelope Cruz, some 30 years his junior, together have created the most convincing and emotionally true love story on screen this year in Elegy, an adaptation of the always tough to crack writings of Phillip Roth.
Based on his short novel “The Dying Animal” (which was strangely dropped as the title of the movie), Kingsley plays David Kepesh, a middle-aged college professor whose sharp intellect and glowing outward confidence has managed to secure the affection of gorgeous young students after their graduation for a long time with laid back, no strings attached sex.
You see Kepesh is famous. He is a frequent talk show guest whose impressive mind has brought him some fame and the girls are often awe struck by him.
Annually, he holds a party for his students where he can finally without the worry of messed up semesters or his peers being aware, can succumb to the urges he has been feeling all year for the students he picks out but he may have gotten more than he bargained for with the mentally screwed on Cuban-American beauty Consuela Castillo (Cruz).
She fascinates Kapesh, he reminds her of a beautiful painting of his vision of true beauty and he begins to worship her. She has a mind, a fully rounded youthful zeal but intellect beyond her years. He excites her. Bringing back that perfect desirable vulnerability we haven’t seen from her in such a long time (see Vanilla Sky AND Abres Los Ojos), Cruz is a timeless beauty on screen and when she is cast right, she is not just an actress but has a real movie star presence in the way Sophia Loren use to.
For once, Kepesh is starting to feel more than just an erection around his woman of choice. This isn’t just a one night chance encounter which his best friend and equally free spirited with his perversion peer (Dennis Hopper) thinks he should “thank his lucky stars for”. Instead Kapesh is in love and it terrifies him.
He becomes jealous, possessive and exhausted with a new found sense of vulnerability. But he is still smart enough to know that the 30 year difference makes a long term future impossible but he yearns for her so, fearing the moment when he finds her with a younger man.
With some terrific plot turns, the movie goes off on an entirely different direction than you might initially think and becomes much more than a modern day and slightly more adult Lolita. This is a moving and emotional story of two lovers whose regrets are all too painfully projected by two wonderful actors.
Elegy is way more accessible and therefore emotionally connecting and enjoyable than any of Roth’s writings, screenwriter Nicholas Meyer should receive a great praise for his script here, doing a much better job of adapting Roth’s works than he did with his last effort The Human Stain. Director Isabel Coixet handles the material with great care and knows how to shoot Kingsley & Cruz in a way that their love feels oddly intimate and engaging.
Great supporting work from Peter Sarsgaard who makes a very convincing son to Kingsley, fueled with anger and remorse for actions way locked in the past and enjoys some of the movies quieter scenes. Dennis Hopper continues to show us why he has been so wasted in Hollywood for way too long now and his chemistry with Kingsley matches Cruz’s on a very different kind of level.
Patricia Clarkson is also excellent as the woman with whom Kepesh has casually been sleeping with for two decades and she keeps up with Kingsley in some of the more memorable scenes of the movie.
One of the better movies of the year, which I would only say hasn’t got a good grasp of time (seriously, the movie floats about at it’s own leisure and becomes particularly frustrating) and some of the emotional pay-offs are a little disappointing but this is still a fascinating drama and the great Ben Kingsley deserves his Oscar buzz.
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