“Take the Lead” won't win any originality contests, but the new Antonio Banderas vehicle manages to work, thanks to a solid cast and some nice work by director Liz Friedlander.
Inspired by true events, “Lead” tells the story of Pierre Dulaine, a former professional dancer who volunteers to teach ballroom dancing to a group of students serving detention in a New York public school.
At first, Dulaine and the students clash, but eventually Dulaine becomes a mentor to the kids, helping them to realize their potential.
Dianne Houston's screenplay is pretty straight forward, following a similar formula to recent films like “Save the Last Dance” or even “Coach Carter.”
What Houston's script lacks in originality, Friedlander makes up for with infectious camera work that plays to the director's background in music videos. The dance sequences and music montages are effective, thanks to Friedlander's keen eye for keeping the scene flowing.
The cast fares well, too.
Banderas is believable as Dulaine - getting more out of the character than the script actually gives him. Rob Brown and Yaya DaCosta get the most screen time among the students and deliver nice performances.
It helps to make “Take the Lead” better than it should have been. I'll admit the film probably won't matter come December, but as a mildly entertaining springtime diversion, “Take the Lead” manages to deliver.
“Take the Lead”
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Alfre Woodard
Directed by: Liz Friedlander
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, language and some violence
Playing at: Great Escape 12 (opens Friday)
DVD dandy of the week
This week's dandy is “Brokeback Mountain” (A), director Ang Lee's emotionally compelling adaptation of Annie Proulx's short story about forbidden love that features breakout performances by Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams.
“Brokeback Mountain" tells the story of Ennis (Ledger) and Jack (Gyllenhaal), a ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy who meet in the summer of 1963 herding sheep in Wyoming. Ennis and Jack's relationship becomes intimate, although Ennis is more reluctant to continue the tryst, content to marry his high school sweetheart Alma (Williams).
Several years pass before Jack pays Ennis a visit and the relationship picks up again, just as passionate as the initial encounter.
While the story has made it easy to label “Mountain” as “the gay cowboy movie” (and I'll admit I have referred to it as that to friends and co-workers), it is much more. This is a film that deals frankly with the regrets we sometimes have in life and the pain and anguish it can cause to everyone involved.
Ledger hits all the right notes as Ennis, delivering a quiet performance filled with heartache and sorrow. Gyllenhaal is very good as Jack and Anne Hathaway shatters her nice girl image from “The Princess Diaries” with a complex performance as Jack's wife, Lureen.
But it is Williams who delivers perhaps the best performance. Her work as Alma is heartbreaking and very sympathetic. I really felt her pain as she slowly watches her marriage crumble.
“Brokeback Mountain” isn't a flawless film. Even at nearly 2 1/2 hours, there are times when “Mountain” seems to rush the story, going from point A to point C without connecting through point B. Still, it is a minor criticism for a film as emotionally involving and compelling as “Brokeback Mountain.”
“Brokeback Mountain” is rated R for sexuality, nudity, language and some violence and is now available on DVD.