Affecting Drama From Anthony Drazan
Reviewer | 12/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Is the wish for love greater than the need to hate? An interesting question posed by, and the complexity of which is examined in this film about the effects of the decisions we make during the course of our lives, and how those decisions ultimately affect our families and loved ones. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Sheila Ballantyne, "Imaginary Crimes," directed by Anthony Drazan, stars Harvey Keitel as a widowed father raising two young daughters in 1950s Oregon. Ray Weiler (Keitel) is no role model for fathers, however. In fact, in the words of the author, "Never has a man less equipped for parenthood tried so hard." And failed, she should have added. Ray is not a "bad" man, per se, but he's a dreamer and a schemer, following one deal of a lifetime after another that, up until the day she died, kept Valery (Kelly Lynch) and their daughters, Sonya (Fairuza Balk) and Greta (Elisabeth Moss) living in a one room basement apartment. To the very end, Valery was always a "technicality" away from what she wanted most: A home of her own. And when she died, that dream apparently died with her. Ray's dreams, however, continued; as did the dark clouds his lifestyle cast over the Weilers, beneath which they were forced to live every day without hope or respite. A dreary life, indeed, for two young girls with nowhere to turn. Told through the reminiscences of Sonya (with Balk providing effective voice-over narration), the story unfolds with the help of flashbacks which reflect the turmoil of young Sonya and Greta's lives with Ray. The sequences involving Valery are especially poignant, and presented with such care and subtly that it enables you to feel and share her every disappointment-- and there were many. You also share her joy at winning a simple raffle at the neighborhood movie theater, where she would escape with Sonya every Wednesday night. And when Sonya points out the fact that her mother cried at every film, no matter what it was, it says volumes about Valery's state of mind and the despair and unhappiness with which she lived, yet masked so convincingly in front of Sonya. It's also easy to understand the bond between the sisters, formed as a means of steeling themselves against the unconscionable neglect of their father. Though not physically abusive, the pain he inflicted on his daughters psychologically was immeasurable. Yet they stood by him; perhaps because they had nowhere else to go and no one to whom they could turn. Filmed on location in Oregon, the film has a wistful, almost dreamlike quality that successfully reflects the era it depicts, as well as the overall mood of the story, aided in no small part by the atmosphere director Drazan creates. He renders a touching sense of injustice that keeps the viewer acutely aware of the helpless and seemingly inescapable situation in which the girls are forced to remain, and he makes the girls so readily accessible that it is easy to emphasize with them. And it makes you realize that even as big as the world is, everybody lives within their own little part, and it's different for every individual. The world of your next door neighbor may not resemble the world in which you live in any way, shape or form; and because of that, need often goes undetected and want thrives. As Ray, Harvey Keitel is outstanding, giving a restrained and understated performance that allows you to like him and hate him at the same time. This is a complex character that Keitel develops extremely well, showing you the schemer and the con-man, but also giving you something of an indication of what lies beneath. This is a man capable of disciplined introspection, yet too selfish to do what he must know is the right thing by his family. He's a man who is past believing in himself, but has actually fallen victim to his own con and is unable to let loose of his irresponsible dreams. It's a strong performance, through which he paints the picture of a desperate man, who has no idea of just how desperate he is until it's too late. And the saddest thing about it is the effect it has on Sonya and Greta. Giving an affecting performance, as well, is the young Fairuza Balk, whose dark beauty and intensity make her perfect for the role of Sonya. She has such expressive eyes that they veritably serve as a window into the soul of her character, which nevertheless seems to emerge from a very private place, and one that gives it definition. Like Keitel, Balk's performance is rather restrained, which gives even more power to her already mesmerizing screen presence. She makes you understand how her circumstances have affected her, which she subtly conveys in the way she relates to those around her, including Greta. There's a sense of the exceptional about Balk, who in an industry filled with young actors seemingly just off the production line, remains unique and has served herself and her career well by exploring some diverse characters in such films as "American History X," "Things To do In Denver When You're Dead," "The Waterboy" and possibly her most definitive role, as that of the young witch in "The Craft." Sonya is one of her more down-to-earth characters, and she delivers her quite well. The supporting cast includes Vincent D'Onofrio (Mr. Webster), Diane Baker (Abigail Tate), Chris Penn (Jarvis), Amber Benson (Margaret), Annette O'Toole (Ginny) and Seymour Cassel (Eddie). Thought provoking and emotionally involving, "Imaginary Crimes" will take you to a dark place, and it's one that may be all too familiar to some who see this film. This is no happily-ever-after fairy tale, but a very real look at some hard facts about the world in which we live and the people who surround us, and the necessity of reaching out to those who just may be in need."
Willie Loman with daughters
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 07/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a great movie. I'm amazed that it got made and done so well. First kudos go to Sheila Ballantyne who wrote the novel. A story like this cannot be made up in committee or by hiring the hottest screen writer in town. It has to be lived. There's no question that Ballantyne lived it. And then it has to be understood in the light of love before it can be shared with us. And she did that.Second kudos go to Tony Drazan who directed and interpreted. It can be seen that he loved the story and he wanted it to be beautiful, and he made it so. He picked the dearest, sweetest girls to play the parts of Sonya and Greta at various ages. And he had to have the right man for their father, a flawed man, like all of us, a man doing the best he can, a man with values that don't really work, a man who lost his young wife to cancer and was left to raise his two daughters alone, a man like Arthur Miller's Willie Loman who had big dreams never realized, a man neither hero nor villain; in short a man who had to be played with delicacy and without maudlin sentiment. Harvey Keitel fit the part, that of a schemer and a dreamer and a self-deluded hustling con man, and did a fantastic, flawless job.Fairuza Balk, who played Sonya was wonderful, and Elizabeth Moss as Greta was adorable beyond expression, and so beautifully directed. The girl who played the young Sonya was not only excellent, but looked enough like Fairuza Balk to be her younger sister: perfect casting. And Kelly Lynch who had a limited role as the mother was exquisite. The interaction between the father and the daughters was painfully veracious, filled with real-life tension and heart-breaking disappointments, but done without abuse and without any of the dysfunctional family sicknesses so often expressed these days. We see his failure as a father on one level, and yet in the end we see through the eyes and the voice of Sonya a greater truth: in spite of his weaknesses he actually succeeded as a father. In fact we see that whether he knew it or not, the one thing that he did right in his life, although he wavered plenty, was bringing up his girls against the great odds of his defective character. And the love shown him by his daughters, so beautifully projected by both Balk and Moss, was wonderful to experience since it is so seldom seen these days when the usual style is to trash men and their part in the family. And the nonexploitive, nurturing and loving role of Sonya's English teacher, played with a fine delicacy by Vincent D'Onfrio, was a much-needed change from the usual cinematic use of teachers as sexual lechers. In this movie we can see that men are people too. I should mention that the screenplay by Kristine Johnson and Davia Nelson was carefully crafted to showcase the story dramatically, and to warn you that this is a tear jerker. It starts a little slow, and seems a touch old fashioned, but stay with it: it's a beautiful movie, one the best I've ever seen."
Fairuza Balk is wonderful
Dennis Littrell | 04/14/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Even as young as she was here, Fairuza Balk was wonderful in this movie. Harvey Keitel, one of the best character actors around, also did a wonderful job. Wonderful movie!!"