Rip Torn is the only reason to see “Forty Shades of Blue,” a movie so contemplative and internal it makes “Lost in Translation” look like a Schwarzenegger film. The movie stops being interested halfway through, but Torn never ceases to be compelling. He’s the kind of actor you could watch as he sits and reads a book and it would still be interesting.
Torn plays Alan James, a legendary Memphis jazz, blues and rock producer and songwriter who, at the film’s outset, is being honored at a banquet. He gives his acceptance speech with confidence, coming across as eminently likable and charismatic. The whole city loves him. He’s cocky enough to love himself even more, but smooth enough to make the city think he’s humble.
Then he ditches his hot Russian girlfriend, Laura (Dina Korzun), and heads upstairs to fool around with some bimbo. This Alan James, this beloved son of Memphis, is a philanderer. Later scenes will reveal his wild temper, too, and his random bouts of cruelty. Yet through it all, you can see why people like him, how his charm carries him blissfully through life.
The film, written by Ira Sachs and Michael Rohatyn and directed by Sachs, favors atmosphere over plot, though there is a bit of one: Alan’s grown son Michael (Darren E. Burrows), in town from Los Angeles to help celebrate the father he never cared much for, falls for Laura, who has understandably felt neglected by Alan lately. They both know that Alan is not the type of man to deal well with this sort of humiliation, though, should he find out.
But the mood is the important thing, and Sachs paints a vivid one, framing characters in the corners of the screen and favoring lingering shots and long glances. He examines these people carefully and clinically, an impartial observer.
The problem is with the character of Laura, who is dull and frigid. She does not bear close scrutiny; Dina Korzun, an exotically beautiful Russian actress, cannot carry a character-driven drama like this one, especially in the latter part of the film, when Laura becomes the focus. More Rip Torn might have helped … but, then, I always say that.
C+ (1 hr., 47 min.; )