The view from “Heights” is not a pretty one. With its unflinching look at modern big-city relationships, it paints a picture of people hardened by heartbreak. The movie isn’t cynical, exactly, toward love, but it’s certainly cautious about it.
Set entirely on one fall day in New York, the intimate film, shot with hand-held cameras, focuses on several Manhattanites whose connections with each other become more clear as time goes on. At the lead is Diana Lee (Glenn Close), an Oscar-winning actress now in rehearsals to play Lady Macbeth on Broadway and giving master classes at Juilliard in her spare time. Her daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), a photographer, is marrying Jonathan (James Marsden) in a month, barring any unforeseen difficulties.
A struggling young actor named Alec (Jesse Bradford) auditions for a play Diana is directing and Diana notices on his resume that he lives in the same building as Isabel and Jonathan. “What a small world,” she observes, smiling, flirting with him. Alec says he didn’t know he lived in the same building as the famous Diana Lee’s daughter, but something about his manner suggests there is more to it than that. Maybe he is just nervous because the famous Diana Lee is flirting with him, inviting him to her birthday party tonight at her house. Diana Lee feels entitled to flirt: Her husband is cheating on her with another “Macbeth” cast member, and we gather this is a pattern with him.
Across town, at the Vanity Fair offices, we meet Peter (John Light), a London writer working on the memoirs of famed photographer Benjamin Stone, an exhibit of whose work is soon to open at a local gallery. Benjamin’s models are usually his lovers, who are also usually his photography students, and they influence his work. Like Picasso had a Blue Period or a Red Period, Benjamin has an Andrew Period or a Michael Period. He had a Peter Period, too, and also a period bearing the name of another character in the movie. Peter’s editor (Isabella Rossellini) has the idea of Peter interviewing these men to see what they think of Benjamin’s work and of the man himself. The unanimous responses are: brilliant, and evil.
Based on Amy Fox’s play and directed by Chris Terrio (who was only 25 at the time it was shot!), “Heights” has a tone similar to that of last year’s “Closer,” albeit with more characters and a slightly less sour view of modern love. These are sophisticated people, for the most part, and they live in a sophisticated city. You wonder if their problems are the same as yours or mine or anyone else’s who doesn’t live in Gotham.
That said, the more universal elements — feeling betrayed, feeling uncertain, feeling scared — are well-played by the cast, including even James Marsden, whose status as a thespian lightweight was heretofore unquestioned. Ditto Jesse Bradford, who in recent years has moved from dumb stuff like “Clockstoppers” and “Swimfan” to indie fare like “Eulogy,” “Happy Endings” and this. What’s he doing in a movie with Glenn Close? Why, holding his own, actually.
Close herself is just marvelous, giving one of her best performances in years. She has emerged from her Cruella de Vil Period into a renaissance of sorts, doing 13 weeks of smashing work on this last season of “The Shield” and now nailing the multi-faceted role of Diana Lee — wealthy, passionate, and wounded — like the pro she is.
B+ (1 hr., 33 min.; )