Growing old together plus terrorists.

It's hard enough to know how you authentically respond to a film like 5 Flights Up, in which Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton play a long-married couple who—

Okay, let's just back up one second.

Morgan Freeman. Diane Keaton. Married couple. Live with that image. Marinate in its vast potential. But you're right to ask: Is this the real Keaton and Freeman, or is it Mad Money Keaton and Bucket List Freeman? For the first 10 minutes of 5 Flights Up, it's difficult to say, since American movies are forever spending their first 10 minutes establishing characters—and thus insulting viewers—to within an inch of their lives, the better to set up the math equations that nearly all narrative screenplays basically are.

In this case: The couple (Ruth and Alex) is trying to sell the big Brooklyn walk-up they've lived in for 40 years and can't afford to move to a building with an elevator until they do. He's a once-successful, now-unfashionable painter; she's a retired teacher. The formerly sketchy, now-Starbucksed neighborhood has changed—though the only-in-the-movies neighbors all know each other's business and even the cabdrivers are menschy. Meanwhile: A breaking story about an abandoned truck that may or may not contain a terrorist bomb is all over the news and on everyone's mind. Also: Their dog has a very expensive back injury. Which is to say: Everything is up in the air. The stage is set for the kind of real-life, lower-middle-class kitchen-sinker—in which economic circumstance is one of the prime dramatic engines—that Hollywood is notorious for getting completely wrong. 5 Flights Up both is and isn't that kind of film.

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If its identity is somewhat muddled (there's an awful lot of supposedly comic material that will only be of interest to people who have experience with the New York City real-estate market, and the terrorist subplot feels weirdly stapled on), this adaptation of Jill Ciment's novel Heroic Measures—in which Alex and Ruth are a pair of old-line leftist Jews—succeeds at depicting a plausible marriage at an unconventional crossroads. There's no sense that the couple won't make it (or that the dog will be fine, or that the guy will turn out not to be a terrorist, etc.), but their dawning awareness that the life they've built has long since entered its final act lends a tenderness to their bickery banter, and invests their quest to up stakes with a preciousness. The good kind.

Freeman and Keaton make their worth known (duh) in the sad, sweet moments between their otherwise whatever dialogue, thus allowing a film that would like to pretend it's about city life, race and class in America, and the conflict between art and commerce reveal, however gradually, that it's actually about the real price of sharing your life. recommended

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