The partnership of acclaimed director Todd Haynes and actress Julianne Moore should be ranked up there with the collaborative works of Scorsese/De Niro, Allen/Keaton, and Burton/Depp, among others. Haynes and Moore have crafted some major and incredible films in the past two decades, such as Safe (1995), I'm Not There (2007), and Wonderstruck (2017). However, 2002's Far From Heaven, is where they both hit their stride. With this film, you truly get the essence of how brilliantly they work together.
The story (an obvious tribute to Douglas Sirk's melodramas, especially All That Heaven Allows) is set in 1950s Connecticut, where Cathy Whitaker (Moore), a dutiful housewife who seemly has perfect life: a nice, fancy home; two wonderful children; and her handsome, successful husband Frank (Dennis Quaid). All of that comes to a crashing halt after she discovers Frank's secret life as a closeted homosexual trying to fight his true feelings as he continues to put on a facade as the "perfect husband." To make matters worse, her friendship, or something more with her nice, good-looking black gardener Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert) elicts gossip and scorn from her best friend and all other members of high society in the town. This eventually leads Cathy to make a serious decision in her life: either to continue living a lie or follow her heart.
As I mentioned the homage to Sirk, Haynes has crafted a loving tribute to him by not making the film campy or sugary. He doesn't slap Sirk nor the audience in the face; he gives the story a modern twist, which means that it doesn't end on the usual happy note. Lives change forever, people come and go, but the pain or desire still remains.
Haynes also shows us that he is one of the finest directors of actors working today. Moore is outstanding, as usual. Her performance is of quiet and heartbreaking grace. We feel her pain, and wonder will her Cathy come out stronger in the end. Quaid gives arguably the best performance of his career. You start to feel anger towards his Frank, but you don't condemn him for it, because you understand how attraction and desire can grab hold of you and never let go. Haysbert is quiet devastating as Raymond, a man who realizes that mainly because of the color of his skin, he will never be welcomed everywhere. He's an amazing actor who should be in more films. There's also outstanding support by the always reliable Patricia Clarkson, and the great Viola Davis in one of her first feature roles.
There are some good special features on the Blu-ray, even though they are recycled from the original Universal DVD: audio commentary by Haynes, The Making of Far From Heaven, Anatomy of a Scene Featurette, A Filmmaker's Experience with Moore and Haynes, the theatrical trailer, and other trailers (The Tarnished Angels, Untamed Heart, and D.O.A.).
For me, this is subtle and graceful filmmaking at its finest and sublime. I think fans of Sirk will appreciate this type of affectionate homage to a bygone era of film. Haynes and Moore are always a perfect match and I can't to see what they do next.
Far From Heaven will be available March 19.