Secrets and lies in intersecting New York lives
In Heights, those kind of chance encounters connect five New Yorkers, who are also connected by their relationship to Benjamin Stone, a photographer who specializes in the nude male form. Peter (John Light), working on Stone's memoirs, is tracking down his models to talk to them. Among them is Jonathan (James Marsden, X-Men) an attorney, who is preparing to marry Isabel (Elizabeth Banks, Wet Hot American Summer), a photographer who is a great admirer of Stone's. Meanwhile, Isabel's mom, Diana (Glenn Close), who actually knew Stone, thanks to her status as a acting great, is busy being fascinated by a young actor named Alec (Jesse Bradford, Swimfan), who lives in the same building as Jonathan and Isabel. Small world.
Jonathan has a lot of trouble in his life, not the least of which is Isabel finding out about his past with Stone. Being Jewish, there are issues with his marriage to the gentile Isabel, and there are some underlying concerns about his relationship with his future wife. Isabel isn't having an easy time of it either, struggling with her relationship with her mother, her dissatisfaction with her career and her fiancee. And Diana is generally just disappointed, as nothing in her life is quite working out, outside of her acting. The whole story plays itself out over a 24-hour period, as each character tries to find their happiness, which causes a chain reaction throughout the characters' six degrees of separation.
Considering this film never had a wide theatrical release, the cast is stunningly loaded. Close is her usual great self, molding what could have been a flat parody of the emotionally wounded artist into a three-dimensional person, while Marsden and Banks are effective as young New Yorkers struggling with problems every couple faces, along with some unique ones as well.
Even minor parts, like Diana's theater director and Jonathan's rabbi are filled by talented actors, like Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio) and George Segal ("Just Shoot Me"). Bogosian is like Elliot Gould in his prime, while Segal was a great choice to play a slightly pivotal role with humor and depth. "Reno 911!" star Thomas Lennon and singer Rufus Wainwright are also bright spots, despite limited time on-screen.
As seen in the work of Altman and Anderson, the concept of showing how life interconnects is not exactly groundbreaking, but in the hands of director Chris Terrio, it feels fresh and energized. A part of the Merchant-Ivory film machine, Terrio impressed producer Ismail Merchant during his work as an assistant on James Ivory's film The Golden Bowl, earning him the chance to direct Heights.
Terrio's eye for New York serves him well in getting the most out of his location shoots, and his ability to create impressive visuals without becoming excessive, like his reasonable use of split-screen, helped him make the film an entertaining trip to a familiar landscape. What might be his most important talent is his ability to understand when to let the actor be the focus, a key skill when working with a cast as good as this one.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very good as well, filling the surrounds with music and some sound effects to create a nice, deep sound field, while the center speaker kicks out very clear dialogue. It's not a showcase presentation for your system, but for the source material, it's a good fit.
The featurettes included are short, but very appropriate for the film. "Shooting New York" is a set of videos taken on-set, with narration from Terrio. It's not the most in-depth piece, but a nice look at filming on-location in New York.
"The Scottish Play: Designing Broadway for Film" is just as good, focusing on how the production of "MacBeth" in the film was put together. The effort is very impressive for a film of this size.
The featurettes are followed by a photo gallery, which for most films is a space-filler. Here, where one of the main characters is a photographer, it makes sense. The pictures included in the slideshow are those of the photographers hired to create Isabel's art for the film. The disc also has several previews that wrap up the party.
The Bottom Line