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Far From Heaven Film Review

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During the 50's director Douglas Sirk made his name as the master of melodrama with such classics as "Written on the Wind" and "Imitation of Life," as he examined romantic relations and intrigues that showcased leading man Rock Hudson. In what can only be called heartfelt homage, writer/director Todd Haynes captures the interpersonal angst of Sirk and updates it to the new millennium in "Far From Heaven."

Sirk propelled Rock Hudson to movie icon status as a regular player in many of the director's popular flicks using, I think, the actor's secret sexual preference to create characters that had a certain ambiguity about them. With "Far From Heaven" writer/helmer Todd Haynes seems to be doing the same for Julianne Moore. This is the second film that Haynes and Moore have worked together, the first being "Safe," and in this latest collaboration we see a professional relationship that may not be so far from heaven.

Moore plays Cathy Whitaker, an upper middle class housewife who tends to her beautiful home in Hartford, Connecticut for her hard-working TV sales exec husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid), and her two young kids. Life is idyllic with Cathy able to demonstrate her liberal attitudes and voice her mind on the time's civil rights issues. She is startled one day, though, when she sees a stranger, a black man, looking around her yard. She soon learns that he is the son of her gardener who has recently died and the son, Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), the owner of a gardening business, has taken over for his late dad. A friendship soon blooms between the two.

Cathy takes for granted that husband Frank is, as usual, working overtime when he's late for a dinner party or drunkenly abuses her verbally in front of friends. But his increasingly surly behavior isn't because he is working long hours. It's because Frank has doubts about his sexual orientation. When Cathy decides to drop off dinner at the office one evening when Frank is working late she catches him in the arms of a man! Suddenly, the solid foundation of her marriage and life starts showing some pretty significant cracks. Frank breaks down and promises to go into therapy then takes her on a vacation, just themselves and no kids, to Miami. Of course, we the audience see that Frank isn't cured of his homosexual sickness. Not by a long shot. Cathy's life, as she has known it, is quickly falling apart.

Controversial filmmaker Haynes, considered by some as a leader in queer cinema, has never drawn back from producing provocative films such as "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," his three-part AIDS allegory "Poison" and his first Julianne Moore vehicle, "Safe." Throughout his career his gay-themed works have always garnered interest, debate and a solid following. But these films have been a learning experience for the writer/director leading up to his latest, most fully drawn effort in "Far From Heaven." Haynes has transcended his previous works in what can be considered a masterpiece of modern cinema that reps the maturing of an artist into world-class filmmaker.

Haynes shows an incredibly detailed understanding of the films by Douglas Sirk, taking the ambiguity that the social mores of the 50's required of such filmmakers and opening it up in an honest, sometimes painful way through his central character, Cathy. Instead of leaving such controversies as racial prejudice and homosexuality in the closet, so to speak, writer Haynes lays them bare for our examination. "Far From Heaven" starts out light and perky as Cathy leads her perfect, liberal life with her perfect husband and kids. She sees nothing wrong as her friendship with Raymond blossoms but there are storm clouds gathering on the horizon as personal and public events unfold.

Cathy's heartfelt feelings for good and kind Raymond, as innocent and chaste as they are, represent a threat to her white bread society. When they are seen together visiting a black-owned restaurant and bar by Hartford's foremost gossip, Cathy's secure life begins to fall apart. Her shocked discovery of husband Frank's alternative lifestyle furthers the breakdown in her life and we watch the always pleasant Cathy begin to lose the security that she had taken for granted.

Julianne Moore gives her best performance to date as she gives dimension and feeling to Cathy. You understand

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