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'Heights,' the last with the Merchant mark

June 13, 2005|Susan King

One can't help but watch "Heights," which opens Friday, with a tinge of sadness. The intimate ensemble drama led by Glenn Close is one of the last films produced by the estimable Ismail Merchant, who died suddenly on May 25 in London at the age of 68.

Besides "Heights," Merchant and producer-director James Ivory -- his collaborator both on and off screen for more than 40 years -- completed "The White Countess," due for release in the fall. Though Merchant generally produced films that Ivory directed, such as "A Room With a View" and "Howards End," he also occasionally directed -- 2001's "The Mystic Masseur" and 1993's "In Custody."

Merchant often produced for other directors as well, including Connie Kaiserman (1986's "My Little Girl"), Nicholas Meyer (1988's "The Deceivers"), Simon Callow (1991's "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe") and now Chris Terrio ("Heights").

"Heights," which was filmed in New York in 2003, marks the directorial debut of Terrio, who received his master's in film production at USC and once worked as an assistant to Ivory.

Adapted by Amy Fox from her short play of the same name, "Heights" follows a group of disparate post-Sept. 11 New Yorkers whose lives intersect during the course of 24 hours. Close plays a famous stage actress with an open marriage who is afraid of losing her husband when he falls in love with her understudy in "Macbeth." Her daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), is a struggling photographer trying to plan her impending wedding to a handsome young lawyer (James Marsden) with a deep, dark secret.

Jesse Bradford plays an actor auditioning for a play that Close's Diana is set to direct and who also happens to live in the same apartment building as Isabel and her fiance.

Rounding out the cast of characters is Peter (John Light), a British writer and onetime boyfriend of a famous gay London photographer. Peter has come to New York to interview all of the shutterbug's former lovers for a memoir he is writing on the artist.

"Heights" premiered in September at the Deauville Film Festival and was shown in January at the Sundance Film Festival.

-- Susan King

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