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`Haven' is a refuge from blah-busters

MOVIES | REVIEW

September 15, 2006|Michael Ordona | Special to The Times

"Haven" is being quietly slipped into theaters, but this is not the usual end-of-summer jetsam dump. The film, which has been recut since it screened two years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, is probably a victim of its own complexity.

This genre-crossing ensemble piece switches from the sublime (suspended moments of lovers' bliss) to the stomach-churning (the constant threat of violence) without breaking its swaying stride. Set in the Cayman Islands, it intertwines stories of corrupt businessmen fleeing the feds into tax havens, local small-time operators overestimating their own abilities and, at its center, forbidden romance. It's about the paradises the characters seem to find, each of which turns out to be more than just a letter away from "Heaven."

Although writer-director Frank E. Flowers, making his feature-film debut, falls into the common traps of MTV-Soderbergh progeny, busybody editing and camera action, he generates tension with relatively strong storytelling and compelling relationships. The movie's not quite a thriller, not just a love story; it's told in a nonlinear style that can abruptly downshift to a leisurely gait.

Flowers reportedly grew up in the Caymans, which would explain the fine detail sprinkled throughout. He has given his actors some well-observed characters, such as the big-talking island lothario who "cleans up" a kitchen beer spill by rubbing it with his shoe, or the teenage sidekick whose pimped-out ride is a ratty bicycle with a boom box strapped to the handlebars. Flowers gets relaxed, naturalistic performances from a strong cast that includes Orlando Bloom, who executive produced the film, Bill Paxton and Stephen Dillane.

As the romantic dreamer Shy in "Haven," Bloom is at his best since a roguish jaunt in "Ned Kelly." Zoe Saldana ("Guess Who," "The Terminal") gives a sweet and complicated performance as Shy's secret love, Andrea. As the smooth-operating island kid Fritz, Victor Rasuk ("Raising Victor Vargas") is simultaneously charming and reprehensible.

"Haven" is far from perfect, with some uncomfortable pacing, wayward accents and less-than-satisfying denouements. But it's a refreshing, character-driven antidote to the late-summer movie-house blahs, and Flowers looks like a talent worth watching.

*

`Haven'

MPAA rating: R for language, drug use, sexual content and some violence

A Yari Film Group release. Writer-director Frank E. Flowers. Producers Bob Yari, Robbie Brenner. Director of photography Michael Bernard. Editors Peter Christelis, Lisa Fruchtman. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

In selected theaters.

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