Although he has only directed four films, James Gray has already established himself as one of the most accomplished voices in modern American cinema. At a time when Hollywood moviemaking is defined by youth and spectacle, and “independent” cinema by disingenuous quirk, Gray’s films have embraced a restrained and classical visual style, a focus on the working class, an emphasis on character over action, and sincere performances of great depth and feeling.Director James Gray on the set of ‘Two Lovers’.
It’s a style that’s a unique blend of American and European influences, and appropriately, Gray has long been received as a modern day auteur abroad. In France, Gray has been consistently praised by the critics of the prestigious Cahiers du cinema, and is the subject of a new book, Conversations with James Gray.
Born and raised in New York City — the setting for all of his films — Gray made his directorial debut in 1994 with Little Odessa, a striking mob picture set in Brooklyn’s Russian-Jewish community. Directed when Gray was only 25 years old, the film won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and immediately established Gray’s finely tuned sense of place and facility with actors. Little Odessa was followed by a pair of noir-tinged, classically tragic crime dramas about families on either side of the law: The Yards and We Own the Night, both starring Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix again starred in the romantic mood piece Two Lovers, giving a bravura performance as an emotionally scarred man who finds himself torn between two women (Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw).Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix in scenes from ‘Two Lovers’.
James has generously taken time out of preparation for his newest film (with an all-star cast including Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Renner) to be with us for the Dryden Theatre screening of Two Lovers, this Friday, December 2nd.
Lori Donnelly is the George Eastman House Dryden Theatre film programmer.