Ted Cole (Jeff Bridges) is a roguish, arrogant and manipulative writer who demands personal and artistic integrity from his young intern, Eddie (Jon Foster), that he cannot match. When lecturing him on the genius of his own talent he expounds, "In my stories you can seewhat's coming but you don't see everything that's coming." The same can be said for this elegant, stark and foreboding adaptation of John Irving's tear-soaked A Widow For One Year.
Death has befallen this family. That much is evident in the clear blue but tortured eyes of Marion Coles (an enigmatic Kim Basinger) and the aggressive joie de vivre of Ted, battling to enjoy life as though he is trying to out-run the Grim Reaper himself. There's no surprise when a Mrs Robinson-style affair flowers once Eddie and Marion are thrown together in a separate home from her feckless husband.
The unexpected comes from delicate directional touches, wounded silences and exceptional turns from Bridges and Basinger. The former imbues the likeably eccentric Ted with a disarming charm that veils darker intentions - goading his wife and humiliating his mistress. Marion, meanwhile, is a woman who says more with silences than words. Whether weeping while making love or simply watching her teenage lover, she is the only member of the family who tells sad stories without speaking at all.
The pervading sense of doom is expertly drawn out by a screenplay that leaves the catalyst of the couple's grief unexplained until the last reel, giving this Long Island fable a tragic Great Gatsby quality. See how the pale, bleached-out and windswept vistas reflect the Coles' lives, weathered by catastrophe and isolated by wealth.
The only unwelcome surprise in this elegant requiem is an ill-judged, third-act descent into black comedy, as Ted's scorned lover (Mimi Rogers) attempts revenge. But Bridges manages to steady the tone with an outstanding final beat in an affecting, understated denouement. Surely it's time they gave this man an Oscar.
An intelligent study of mourning, with Bridges and Basinger giving their best performances in years. Not many laughs, mind.