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TWILIGHT (director/writer: Robert Benton; screenwriter: Richard Russo; cinematographer: Piotr Sobocinski; editor: Carol Littleton; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Paul Newman (Harry Ross), Susan Sarandon (Catherine Ames), Gene Hackman (Jack Ames), Reese Witherspoon (Mel Ames), Stockard Channing (Verna), James Garner (Raymond Hope), Giancarlo Esposito (Reuben), Liev Schreiber (Jeff Willis), Margo Martindale (Gloria Lamar), John Spencer (Capt. Phil Egan), M. Emmet Walsh (Lester Ivar); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Arlene Donovan/Scott Rudin; Paramount; 1998)
“Never less than engaging and intelligent.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An excellent contemporary thriller that in its subdued presentation is never less than engaging and intelligent. Writer-director Robert Benton (“The Late Show”) and cowriter Richard Russo take the familiar noir setup for a private dick tale and do a great job keeping things lively, humorous, delicate and slightly updated. It reunites the Nobody’s Fool (1994) team of star Paul Newman with Benton and scripter Russo, and though not as original or on the same high level as that film it nevertheless is rewarding–especially for the laid back captivating performance by Newman and the able performances by the rest of the star-studded cast. As you may guess from the title, the film is concerned in large part with aging not only the physical but mental part. Newman at 73, shows his mettle and though not up to the physical nature of the role still more than satisfies with his natural virility, keen probing of the way things are, and exhibiting a witty dialogue (thanks to the sharp banter given him by the writers).

It opens with the prologue set in a resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with the elderly private eye Harry Ross (Paul Newman) accidentally shot in the groin by runaway 17-year-old Mel Ames (Reese Witherspoon) while she’s being returned home at her parent’s request for being with the adult Jeff Willis (Liev Schreiber).

The film skips to two years later, Harry is depicted as an ex-cop, ex-private eye, ex-family man and ex-drunk. He’s melancholy, has no money and lives rent-free in a garage apartment on the Los Angeles estate of Mel’s movie-star parents and longtime pals of his, Jack and Catherine Ames (Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon). Jack is cancer-stricken and jealous that Harry is interested in his sex goddess wife. Jack asks Harry as a favor to deliver a package filled with money to a mysterious woman named Gloria (Margo Martindale). Instead Harry’s greeted by a badly wounded man firing at him. He dies before he can kill Harry. After Harry looks through his wallet and learns the dead man’s name is Lester Ivar (M. Emmet Walsh) and he’s a former cop, he goes to his apartment and pieces together it’s all about a blackmail scam against Jack. It has something to do with an incident that took place twenty years ago, as Catherine ran off with an actor and his body was never found but he was listed as a suicide. This cleared the way for Jack to marry Catherine. Ivar was the police investigator for that incident. While in Ivar’s apartment the police rush in and Harry’s surprised to be greeted by his former flame and police partner, Verna (Stockard Channing), who is now a police lieutenant. She says “Harry?” He says “Verna! It’s been a long time. A Real long time. “Catalina … ” She says “Cuff him.” Catalina becomes a pleasant memory or used as bait for a possible future date, as Verna doesn’t believe he’s a killer but wonders what he’s up to.

When things begin to get too hectic for Harry, he contacts his aging pal, known as the “clean-up man,” Raymond Hope (James Garner), and finds the retired cop as a wealthy man living in a luxurious Frank Lloyd Wright ultra-modern glass tower on top of the hills of Malibu who’s only too anxious to help. Also enlisted to help is his former Mexican private eye assistant Reuben (Giancarlo Esposito), who becomes comic relief as in all his eagerness to help proves to be inept but, nevertheless, they become a functioning team again.

The labyrinthine plot line has its twists, as poor Harry gets into a hornet’s nest involving not only blackmail but corruption and murder. In an effortless way, Benton does things that Hawks’ great film do, and despite its familiar noir theme it comes up smelling as fresh as a daisy–a pic with a big heart about the muddied waters of the world.

REVIEWED ON 11/16/2005 GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”