DVD Review: Two Lovers

Two Lovers DVD Cover

Director: James Gray (We Own the Night, The Yards, Little Odessa)
Screenplay: James Gray, Ric Menello
Producers: James Gray, Donna Gigliotti, Anthony Katagas
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini, Elias Koteas, Moni Moshonov
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 110 min.

Irecall walking away from James Gray’s We Own the Night thinking that I’d just seen the beginning of something special. Though the film was overlooked by critics and the general public there was something about it that sat with me long after the credits rolled. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Bobby Green was understated but powerful and Gray’s direction was demure and beautiful.

Two Lovers Movie StillI instantly paid a little more attention when a new Phoenix/Gray collaboration was announced and when the trailer for Two Lovers premiered, I knew it was a film I had to see even if the trailer was misleading (as I assumed it was). The trailer does this film very little justice.

Phoenix plays Leonard Kraditor, a man who moved back with his parents after his ex-fiance’s family canceled their wedding. He took the breakup badly, retreating into a world of self abuse and attempted suicides eventually returning home to start rebuilding his life. But months have passed and though he appears to be getting better, his parents are visibly worried and they want him to move on with his life. They devise a plan to set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of a local business owner. Things start off well and the two seem to hit it off but things aren’t as perfect as they appear. Immediately after meeting Sandra, Leonard meets Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), his new upstairs neighbor and becomes instantly smitten by both her looks and her personality. In an instant Leonard goes from meek and shy to juggling two very different women in two very different relationships.

As with his previous films, Gray and cinematographer Joaquín Baca-Asay use their surroundings as an additional character to the story. The city is as alive and important as the characters living in it and Gray isn’t afraid to let the film drown momentarily in the culture. Some of my favourite scenes in We Own the Night were those that showed the city in all it’s beauty and though here the truly breathtaking moments are those between the characters, I love that Gray lingers on small scenes that add little to the story (a walk through the city, an extended scene in a nightclub). But the small moments are fantastic. He’s mastered the art of capturing the interaction between characters and there are moments in this film that are nothing short of spectacular. There’s a rawness to the interaction and emotion on-screen and you can almost feel the awkwardness or intensity between the characters but never do the scenes feel put-on or played up. Certainly kudos must be given to the actors who do an outstanding job and though Phoenix is excellent in his role, I was really taken by Vinessa Shaw’s performance which was tender while never being weak.

Two Lovers Movie StillWhat is most impressive about Two Lovers is the direction Gray and co-writer Ric Menello take Leonard’s character. He begins as a meek and depressing figure, the type of person you can’t help but feel sorry for and yet, as the story develops we come to see a man torn between two women and in the end a man who we both pity and hate. The script asks that Phoenix walk a fine line between love and hate and he does so amazingly well never once alienating the audience though you’ll likely be angry at his actions. And that doesn’t even touch on the complexity of the relationships that Leonard is involved in. On the one hand is Sandra, a grounded woman who wants to look after the obviously broken Leonard; on the other hand there’s Michelle, the free spirited soul who is even more broken than Leonard. Leonard’s choice is not really surprising but the events that follow his decision opens the door to more than a handful of questions on relationships and the choices we make and why we make them.

I expected good things from Gray but Two Lovers is an impressive film which surpasses any expectations I may have had. It’s an emotional and beautiful film, one that will likely change with time and whose appreciation will grow with additional viewings. This marks the coming of age of a great talent in American cinema and one I hope won’t be forgotten before he’s clearly recognized.

Two Lovers made it’s way to DVD on Tuesday, June 30th and the release includes a director’s commentary and an interesting HDNet preview of the film which includes a short but interesting interview with Gray.

Click “play” to see the trailer:

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Michael W. May

I'll never quite understand how films like this do not get wide release and the crap in the multiplex does.

Thanks for the heads up on this; I doubt I ever would have known it existed otherwise.

Andrew James

"Phoenix walk a fine line"

Am I the only one who thinks this is funny?

Andrew James

Well damn. This is not what I expected at all. You're right about We Own the Night; the best thing about it was the delicate directing of the city. The story and characterizations were ho-hum, but the city bits were awesome.

I love directors who can capture moments of interaction between people and still keep the vibe of their surroundings just as important as the dialogue (see My Blueberry Nights for a great example of this).

I'm adding this movie to the Netflix queue now.

Jandy Hardesty

Wow, I remember when this came out in theatres, and I immediately wrote it off, expecting it to be overwrought angst that went nowhere based on the trailer. Marketing fail. I might have to give it another shot now. And We Own the Night, as well, which I never got around to seeing.

Andrew James

Hey Jandy,

I would say don't bother with We Own the Night. It isn't horrible (the carjack scene is actually pretty amazing), but there are simply better things to do with your time. It's just kind of meh (with just a couple of scenes that are pretty rad).

Matt Gamble

I’ll never quite understand how films like this do not get wide release and the crap in the multiplex does.

It comes down strictly to money, and Magnolia simply doesn't have enough of it to give many of their films the push for a wide release. For better or worse, they are a niche distributor.

Ross Miller

@Andrew James,

I actually really quite liked We Own The Night. I think I "over-starred" it with 4 out of 5 when I saw it when it came out, but I still maintain it's a solid watch.

Just as a tidbit: I believe Michael Madsen said in an interview (with Empire magazine, I think) that he walked out of the movie. Wonder why, seems like it's right up his alley 😛


I think it was Dr. Kermode that I heard call James Gray a "mans man" type of director. I wonder what he means by that because his central characters (at least in this and WOTN) are far from "manly". If anything they're lost, tortured, confused and even childish.

Andrew James

So my roommate rented this last night so I watched it with her. Gotta say… not so much.

I liked the performances and Vanissa Shaw is major cutie. Looking like Hilary Swank is bonus but I didn't really like th story at all. It was very frustrating and rang completely false to me.

I did really like the direction but all of the characters rubbed me the wrong way.

Still, I feel like this is one of those movies that after I watch a few more times I could really grow to love. Now that I can get the lameness of the story out of the way, I can concentrate on everything else that is good.


after watching this movie I was left with a inkling for wanting to know more. I love movies that end leaving the rest to your imagination. I too believe that Vanissa Shaw;s performance was wonderful. Her character was weak, yet her performance was everything but. I am a huge Joaquin fan and I thought he did a great job playing such a weak, depressing character. He is a strong actor and seems to bring a lot to each role he has played. Not a huge paltrow fan, but I think she also played her role well