Love and Death on Long Island

       A well-known artist spots an attractive youth by chance and develops
an immediate attraction. That one line summary easily could apply to Thomas
Mann's novella (and Luchino Visconti's lush, if overlong, film adaptation)
DEATH
IN VENICE
. It may also apply to LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND, the feature
debut of British writer-director Richard Kwietniowski which was adapted from
Gilbert Adair's novel.

       Instead of Dirk Bogarde's Gustav von Aschenbach, the central figure is
Giles De'Ath (pronounce Dee-ATH), played to the hilt by John Hurt. De'Ath is
a proud Luddite who has enjoyed a modest success as an author. He's a recent
widower who prefers to shut himself up in his study while his officious
housekeeper Mrs. Barker (the terrific Sheila Hancock) tends to his needs.
One rainy afternoon, he becomes locked out of his home. While waiting for
his wife's friend who has a spare key, he decides to venture to the cinema in
order to catch the latest adaptation of an E.M. Forster work. Instead, he lands
in the wrong theater where HOTPANTS COLLEGE 2 is playing. Once the realization
dawns that this isn't Forster, De'Ath rises to leave and is thunderstruck by a
vision on screen: teen heartthrob Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley nicely tweaking
his own image). De'Ath is smitten and soon seeks out anything he can find
about the American actor. This leads to several amusing scenes as De'Ath
negotiates buying a VCR and opens an account at a video store. (The movie
was made in pre-DVD 1998.)

       Eventually, De'Ath's infatuation drives him to fly to the United States
and visit the small Long Island community where Ronnie lives with his
model girlfriend Audrey (Fiona Loewi) who is impressed that a famous British
writer would be interested in such a C-list performer. While Ronnie may hold
aspirations for better roles, both he and Audrey are keenly aware that he is
stuck in the part of "teen idol." Eventually Giles worms his way into Ronnie's life,
with results that are not always predictable.

       Hurt anchors this terrific film with a strong and deeply moving performance.
While Giles De'Ath isn't always a likable character, Hurt invests the character
with such verve that the audience wants him to succeed. When the moment of
his comeuppance arrives, it is devastating and Hurt handles it beautifully.

       Priestley does a nice job playing off his own image as a TV star who
is trapped in a manufactured image as a teen idol. Loewi has several nice
moments, as does Maury Chaykin as the proprietor of a local diner who is
simpatico with Giles.

       Kwietniowski's script is literate and funny without resorting to the
maudlin. His direction, while not flashy, is steady and allows his talented
cast to shine.


         Rating:                 B +
         MPAA Rating:        PG-13 for brief strong language, thematic elements
                                            and some sexual content
         Running time:       94 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.