Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Directors Love Actors 5: James Gray and Joaquin Phoenix

Collaborations: "The Yards," "We Own the Night," "Two Lovers"

The cinematic connection between writer/director James Gray and actor Joaquin Phoenix must be inspired by mutual respect and a shared perspective on the creative process, because it's clearly not about money. The fact that their previous two films together -- 2000's "The Yards" and 2007's "We Own the Night" -- made less than $30 million combined in the United States didn't stop Gray and Phoenix from reuniting on "Two Lovers," a romantic drama that premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival to mixed reviews and few interested distributors; its producers, 2929, ultimately gave the movie to its sister company, Magnolia Pictures, who'll release it in January. Phoenix is Gray's go-to black sheep; in all three pictures he plays a ne'er-do-well who holds a family's fate in his hands. Gray needs Phoenix in particular because his films don't indict these screw-ups, and it takes an actor of Phoenix's caliber to craft characters we sympathize with even as they continue to disappoint us. In an interview with Cinema Blend, Gray defended Phoenix's repeat casting even though it hasn't translated to huge box office success. "I'm not trying say the things I've done are as good as this, but I don't remember anyone telling Martin Scorsese, 'You shouldn't work with Robert De Niro again, 'Raging Bull' was not a success.' "

See also: Phoenix's co-star from both "The Yards" and "We Own the Night," Mark Wahlberg, another James Gray favorite.


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