Twilight

on November 21, 2008 by Melissa Morrison
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   What a cozy thrill it is to settle back and get lost in the pleasure of Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, Stockard Channing and James Garner acting in a pleasant little L.A. noir. "Twilight" isn't one for the film-school textbooks--the material isn't challenging on the level of "Chinatown" or "L.A. Confidential," and the style isn't as indelible as "Double Indemnity's." But the movie is serviceably smart, a murder mystery nicely twined with themes of aging and of class. In the hands of such storied actors as these, it's driven as much by audience awe as by the film's own craftsmanship.
   Harry Ross (Newman) is a retired private eye called back into service by a friend, cancer-stricken Jack Ames (Hackman), a movie star whose career--as well as that of his wife, Catherine (Sarandon)--is behind him. The Ames' well-appointed sunset years are threatened by some blackmail from their past. Pursuing the source of it upends Ross' own past. It also enables him to encounter his former police partner and flame Verna (Channing, who evokes an almost audible fizz and crackle every time she appears), and fellow dick Raymond Hope (Garner), who's managed to retire in a little more style than Ross, who's been reduced to boarding at the Ames'.
   As noir, "Twilight" is a class act--it's got the snappy patter, it's got the brassy blond (Margo Martindale), it's got the high-cheekboned architecture. It's also got the presence of younger actors who fare well in such inestimable company and keep "Twilight" from becoming a kind of plush ghetto for over-50 Oscar laureates. They are Giancarlo Esposito (as Ross' wannabe assistant), Liev Schreiber (a shady character), and Reese Witherspoon, who, as the Ames' daughter, manages to appear simultaneously innocent and corrupted.    Starring Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman. Directed by Robert Benton. Written by Robert Benton and Richard Russo. Produced by Arlene Donovan and Scott Rudin. A Paramount release. Thriller. Rated R for violence and some sexuality. Running time: 87 minutes.
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