IF I'M TO RATE Barry Levinson's new film, Liberty Heights, on the story -- which is set in the '50s, in Baltimore, and concerns a working-class Jewish family -- I'd have to give it a B-. But the significant thing about cinema (and what separates it from other arts, like fiction) is that there are many reasons to love a film: You can enjoy a movie for just the music (Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black is terrible, but has an excellent score by the legendary Bernard Herrmann), the actors (I'll watch anything that stars Chow Yun-Fat), or the special effects and action sequences (The Matrix).

In the case of Liberty Heights, it is the cinematography that stands out, and promotes this above average film to a solid A status. The man responsible for this is Christopher Doyle, the Australian-born Hong Kong citizen who shot a number of Wong Kar-Wai films, such as Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Happy Together. Doyle's photography in Liberty Heights, his second Hollywood effort (the first being Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho), is preternaturally beautiful. In fact, I was so involved with the ways he played with colors, lights, and lenses that I didn't notice the movie ran for 122 minutes -- a matter which bothered critics who only cared about Levinson's story and were indifferent to Doyle's numinous images.

As there is precious little written about Christopher Doyle, when I had an opportunity to speak to two actors in the film (Ben Foster and Rebekah Johnson -- who play a young and handsome interracial couple), I asked them what they thought of Doyle. "He was very gentle with me, very warm," Rebekah said, in a voice that suggested the gentle ways Doyle handled her image.

"We love Doyle!" Ben said confidently. "Chris is really out there. He is a madman. He is like a fairy tale character. I think of him as half-goat/half-man. The energy just jumps out of him."

The fact that Rebekah sees Doyle as gentle and Ben sees him as a beast is not surprising. Doyle's photography seems always to be two things at once: beautiful and gritty, dreamy and real, active and relaxed. "To this day I have no idea how he did it," Ben said, huffing a puff of smoke. "I'm blown away, blown away with what he captured."

For a review of Liberty Heights, see Film Shorts.

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