James Gray for beginners, a review of the director’s best films

james gray

James Gray for BeginnersMARTIN BUREAU – Getty Images

With the premiere of ‘Armageddon Time’, James Gray added his eighth film to a remarkable filmography in which he has given new life to the classic aroma of the genres, worked with the best actors of his generation and gifted such special films as ‘The night is ours’ and ‘Two Lovers’. However, the director he remains a little-known figure to the general public and his circle of fans is much smaller than that of other equally valuable fellow “authors” of his generation.

We have decided to prepare this introduction to his cinema. So that you can get started quickly with one of those filmmakers who continue to show that, in American cinema, there are still artisan artists.


Who? Like other directors of his fifth as Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson, New Yorker James Gray (born April 14, 1969) started very young despite his short filmography. He shows that he takes care of every step, his films seem to form a compact set, with few cracks and where you can see the progress and maturity of his interests. You only need to see ‘A question of blood (Little Odessa)’, a film that he wrote and directed at only 24 years oldand compare it with his great leap to the stars (and stardom) with ‘Ad Astra’ to realize it.

Style cues: Of ancestry russian jewish, Gray’s grandparents came to Ellis Island in 1923 from the Ukraine, escaping anti-Semitic tsarist programs. Consequently, since its inception, its characters have always been related to their community, with most of its protagonists being Jews and Russian immigrants until ‘Ellis’s Dream’. The first part of his filmography recovers the most classic flavor of crime drama and film noirwith ‘Two Lovers’ and ‘Ellis’s Dream’ turned to romantic melodrama and, finally, with ‘Z, the lost city’ and ‘Ad Astra’ he recovers the purest sense of adventure cinema. With a leisurely pace, careful and cold aesthetics, his films are a set of elegant dramatic postcards full of well-known actors. With another New Yorker like Francis Ford Coppola as the highest reference, Gray has worked with such renowned actors as Brad Pitt, Robert Pattinson, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Tim Roth or Jeremy Renner and actresses like Eva Mendes, Marion Cotillard, Faye Dunaway, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Gyneth Paltrow and Charlize Theron. But the most recognizable face of his cinema is that of the ‘Joker’ Joaquin Phoenix who has collaborated with Gray on up to 4 of his seven films.

2007 Cannes Film Festival -

Jeff Vespa – Getty Images

Philosophy: Gray’s cinema moves in a fine line that has almost disappeared from American cinema. His work embraces classical genres and their deals are always filled with stars. However, his films never quite embrace the most popular codes. nor to compete for the most famous prizes. gray He writes his own movies on his own., full of a density that many critics attribute to it. A “He takes himself too seriously” that produces careful, dark, complex films that are different from the highest grossing cinema. Which often causes the public to feel cheated, as if, for example, what they expect to see in ‘Ad Astra’ is a space adventure or in ‘Two Lovers’ a love story. gray seems to make movies gourmet, one of those who “waste time” in looks and silences and save us as much as possible from shots, fire and deaths. But don’t worry, every effort has its reward, and if something stands out in the way of planning Gray’s films, it is his emphasis on grand finalesmany times summarized in a single shot that is often the highlight of the film.

A famous phrase: “Everything I stole from Coppola.”

A phrase to say in front of moviegoers: James Gray is the great New York filmmaker that this generation owes us.

A phrase you can NOT say in front of moviegoers: My favorite Gray movie is ‘Fifty Shades…’.

A memorable scene: the final scene of ‘Ellis’ Dream’, a whole tribute to the immigrants of New York at the turn of the century, which leads to a brutal conversation between the character of Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix about sins, love, forgiveness and hope. With the two protagonists giving their best in the heartbreaking dialogue, the scene ends with a beautiful shot capable of uniting the separate ending of both in a single contrasting image. A round closure.


‘Z, the lost city’ (2016): As in ‘Ad Astra’, ‘The heart in the dark’ by Joseph Conrad is the main referent of this adventure film starring Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson. The film narrates the growing obsession of a British explorer and soldier to find the mythical city in the Amazon that gives its name to the film. While the protagonist debates between moving on or returning to his family, a whole story is created about the human obsession to explore, about mystery and borders and the magic of discoveries. We warn you that it has an ending of those that leave a mark.

z the lost city james gray


‘Two Lovers’ (2008):Perhaps Gray’s roundest film, this free adaptation of ‘White Nights’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a bleak romantic film starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw. It narrates the encounter of a young man with psychological problems who begins to relate to two women. Shaw’s is all warm and kind while Paltrow’s is as mysterious as she is dark. Gray turns his characteristic coldness into contained passion that explodes in a stark and animal way in this work about the extremes of love and passion.

‘The night is ours’ (2007): The culmination of the entire first criminal career of the filmmaker, is situated in the violence of the New York night in the eighties.. Robert Duvall He’s the police chief Mark Wahlberg, the son who follows in his footsteps, and Joaquin Phoenix, the black sheep of the family. When drug dealers attack her family, Phoenix has to decide whether to help them and put aside his comfortable nightlife with his beautiful girlfriend (eva mendes) or ignore the call of duty. The result is a film that seems to exude not to go everywhere, a story about the evil of and the rottenness of the violence that exists under the nocturnal entertainment. Several outstanding action and intrigue scenes (watch out for the chase in the rain) crown a thriller about the sacrifices of duty.

‘A matter of blood’ (‘Little Odessa’) (1994): With only 24 years, Gray wrote and directed his first account of criminal violence. Made by Tim Roth (probably in the best role of his career), Edward Furlong, Moira Kelly and Vanessa Redgravethis debut gave Gray the Award for Best Director in Venice. It tells the story of a cold killer who returns to his hometown to meet his loved ones, even at the risk of his own life. With his mother sick with cancer, his father disowning him, and his brother trying to follow in his footsteps, Roth’s character walks around without a soul, corrupting inadvertently, but not without doing anything to avoid it, everything that surrounds him. Right from the beginning of him, Gray was not afraid of subtlety as an expressive mark, letting his interpreters and the film breathe, which manages to provide several possible moral readings for each of the characters. The film can also be seen as a great portrait of the New York criminal underworldwhose vision would broaden in ‘The other side of crime’ (2000).

matter of blood little odessa


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