More Sun than Shadows for Keitel, Forlani and Jackson
Starring Harvey Keitel, Joshua Jackson and Claire Forlani "Shadows in the Sun" looks like just another cliche soiree into the hills of Tuscany where the picturesque vistas and the laid back appeal of Italian life wins over not only the central character but also the audience. But despite being in many ways cliche, and feeling like someone has combined the quirky humour of "Waking Ned" with the beauty of "Under the Tuscan Sun", "Shadows in the Sun" is a thoroughly well rounded movie which works on many levels and delivers the warmth and fun you expect from this type of movie.
Jeremy Taylor (Joshua Jackson - Cruel Intentions), a young and career minded editor is dispatched to Tuscany by his demanding boss to find reclusive writer Wheldon Parish (Harvey Keitel - National Treasure) and despite not having written a literary word in 20 years persuade him to sign up to their publishing company. Not the easiest challenge as not only does Wheldon not want to be found but the locals in the small town where he lives are very protective of the once literary genius. But Jeremy manages to break down the barriers and gets to know the real Wheldon and his daughter Isabella (Claire Forlani - Meet Joe Black). In doing so starts to learn all about life, love and what makes a great writer.
"Shadows in the Sun" really does sound very stereotypical with a young man discovering life & love in the beautiful Italian hills especially as it's another movie which goes to Tuscany, but it is far from it. It is the story of two men, one who was once a literary giant who having not written in 20 years fears that he cannot be as great as he once was, so hides behind his wife's death to disguise his fear of failure. The other is a young man who has been indoctrinated into life in the fast lane and although himself an aspiring writer struggles to understand what living really means. But although seemingly totally opposite, bond as they discover that they have more in common than they imagined.
I'll be honest "Shadows in the Sun" starts in a very stereotypical manner and once we have passed the introduction to Jeremy and his routine life in London, where he could be confused for being a young politician, we are greeted with the usual collection of scenes once he hits Italy and Tuscany. Long focus shots of Jeremy as he drives down to his Tuscan destination show the beauty of the landscape and we are greeted with the cliche scene of his road being blocked by a farmer herding his flock of sheep along the road.
Once he reaches the small town where Wheldon resides things carry on in very much in the same manner where the locals he encounters are again those which dominate this type of movie, quirky, fun characters. But thankfully they have a little something extra as they all collude to keep their literary genius safe away from the publishing sharks and journos who seek him out. In many ways these locals remind me of those in "Waking Ned" as they come up with crazy schemes to stop Jeremy from finding Wheldon.
But once we are done with all the stereotypical introductions "Shadows in the Sun" moves to another level and although a few cliche elements remain, such as a possible romance between Jeremy and Isabella, the movie becomes less stereotypical and far more intelligent. I will admit that by the time "Shadows in the Sun" had reached this point I thought I knew what I was going to get but it delivered a greater storyline than I imagined and dragged me into the lives of Jeremy and Wheldon. Their growing relationship and the way each changes as the movie progresses is worked brilliantly, sometimes obviously sometimes not but ultimately tells a wonderful story of what living is all about.
Whilst the storyline to "Shadows in the Sun" is indeed rather good, all the characters and actors make it a much better movie, not something I usually say. From the acting experience of Harvey Keitel as Wheldon, through to Joshua Jackson as Jeremy and along with Claire Forlani, Giancarlo Gianni and Armando Pucci each add so much to the movie.
Most notably is Harvey Keitel without doubt the biggest name in the movie and shows why he is such a great actor. Not only was his characterization of a man having become immersed in the local ways a joy to watch but also the despair he shows as he struggles with his fear of failure. Harvey Keitel gives "Shadows in the Sun" a sort of gravitas that very few actors can achieve, because he creates a character and does not just float through the movie doing nothing; it makes "Shadows in the Sun" feel more than just another Tuscan soiree.
What was a pleasant surprise was the ability of Joshua Jackson who not only appears in I think every scene also displays an ability which I would not necessary associate with someone who made their name in a TV series, in his case "Dawson's Creek". Joshua Jackson is obviously likeable, he's good looking and has a smile which is charming rather than cheesy, but his ability as an actor is much greater than just looking good. He easily held his own in the scenes he shares with Harvey Keitel which I doubt is an easy feet to achieve.
But whilst Jackson and Keitel are the main focus of "Shadows in the Sun", it's the supporting characters which make the movie more entertaining. Claire Forlani is her beautiful best as Wheldon's daughter Isabella and delivers one of the most charming and impressive Italian accents I have seen in a movie from an English actress. Giancarlo Gianni who English audiences may recognize from the recent James Bond movies, is hilarious as the towns local priest and drinking buddy of Wheldon, who has a rather devious side and Armando Pucci adds to the comedy as the owner of the hotel where Jeremy resides.
I have just one criticism of "Shadows in the Sun" and it's not that at times it feels a little too cliché as this is forgivable. My criticism comes from a scene which departs from the realism of the movie and enters a moment of fantasy which makes it feel rather cheesy. The scene in question features Jeremy sitting outside the hotel in the town square trying to write, but being distracted by the locals. For some reason director Brad Mirman turned this into an all singing & dancing moment which feels completely out of place. I can sort of understand what was trying to be achieved but it really annoyed me as that one scene spoilt up to then a movie which delivered a huge amount of warmth and feeling.
What this all boils down to is that "Shadows in the Sun" achieves what it set out to do, yes you fall in love with the Italian life, yes it leaves you feeling warm as well as happy and yes it is subtly inspirational. But "Shadows in the Sun" also delivers a storyline which is more than you would first expect and although it may be obviously sentimental at times feels different to a lot of movies which take us on a journey into the Italian landscape.