Monday, April 22, 2013

A new life, purchased: Dante Ariola and Becky Johnston's ARTHUR NEWMAN

"Starting over" holds such allure, no? But you can't do this without leaving your old life behind. Who remains there and what they mean to you will probably have some impact. Or not, depending on what kind of person you really are. All this and more comes to mind while and after watching the new film ARTHUR NEWMAN from director Dante Ariola (shown just below) and screenwriter Becky Johnston.

This is Mr. Ariola's first outing as the director of a full-length feature, and if he doesn't do himself up proud, he comes pretty close to that, considering that his film is a remarkably quiet one in these current days of nearly non-stop action and explosions.

Fortunately, for a film this subdued, Ariola and his casting director Francine Maisler have culled just the right crop of actors to bring the story to life -- starting with the star they've cast in the title role, Colin Firth (shown below and further below). Does any performer do "quiet" better than this guy? Doubt it. Firth is such an intelligent actor, one who seems particularly given to "interiority," allowing viewers to first be aware of and then often even to gaze into his interior life. So many actors seem unlikely to possess interior organs, let alone an interior life, that watching someone such as Firth perform is a unalloyed pleasure.

Here the actor plays a man who has hit bottom and so decided that the only cure is to begin an entirely new life -- one apart from his son (a fine Lucas Hedges), his ex-wife (Kristin Lehman), even his current squeeze (the always reliable, still beautiful and often surprising Anne Heche).

The film's other main character, who keeps turning up and up like a bad penny to plague our hero, is played by Emily Blunt, another oft-seen and versatile performer who can handle roles as disparate as The Young Victoria and one of the sisters in Sunshine Cleaning. Blunt and Firth make a very good couple, playing off of each other with grace and finesse. Here, Blunt plays the proverbial "bad" girl just itching to be set right, and Firth, of course, is just the guy to do it. But first must come the rest of the movie.

Fortunately, as a director, Mr. Ariola never pushes things, instead allowing his more than capable cast to do their stuff. If this lack of push creates the occasional longueur, it also enables us to better understand and get inside these people, which results in some lovely, quirky and surprising scenes (those between Ms Heche and Mr. Hedges, mistress and son, are among the best in the film).

For a quiet movie that doubles as a kind of road trip, Arthur Newman is also rather event-prone -- hell, there's a lot of sex, even a little death, and a backpack full of money -- but even this is handled with a nice, never-pushed naturalness that guides us from one event to the next. And when the necessary lessons are learned at last and it's time for closure, Ariola doesn't pounce. He hangs back at a discreet distance, refusing to neatly tie up all loose ends. He trusts that, by now, we should know enough about these people to arrive at our own conclusion regarding what might happen. And this, it turns out, is just what we -- and this sweet, serene movie -- need.

Arthur Newman, from Cinedigm Entertainment Group and running 101 minutes, opens this Friday, April 26, at (by my count) 131 thea-ters across the country -- from New York to California and points in between.  Click here to see 'em all -- both cities and theaters.

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