You likely haven't heard of Danish actor Thure Lindhardt, but after Ira Sachs' new drama "Keep the Lights On" finds distribution after its premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival his studio and English-speaking roles should substantially increase. Lindhardt has had small roles in American films such as "Into the Wild" and "Angels & Demons," but is best known for his critically acclaimed role in the Dutch feature "Brotherhood." He has a reputation for becoming a chameleon-like ability to physically transform himself for a role and in "Lights" he has been given a substantial opportunity to show his vast array of acting skills.
A semi-autobiographical drama from Sachs, who won the Grand Jury Prize in 2005 for "Forty Shades of Blue," "Lights" begins in 1998 where we find gay New York resident Erik (Lindhard) satisfying himself on a now antiquated phone sex line. He ends up connecting and hooking up for the first time with Paul (Zachary Booth), a closeted publishing industry lawyer. To say they have enough chemistry for more than a one time shag is an understatement and the film goes on to chronicle the ups and downs over the next 10 years of their unexpected relationship.
The film is a major showcase for both leads, but the film is shown completely through Erik's point of view which just happens to also be the directors. As the years progress, Paul comes out and the two move in together as Erik begins work on his latest documentary. However, Erik becomes increasingly concerned with Paul's drug habit (crack cocaine no less) and his nightly disappearing acts as his addiction grows stronger. Eventually, Erik and Paul's friends have an intervention convincing him to go to rehab. It's not a magic fix, however, and both men have to decide wether their love can survive as the temptations of living in a major metropolitan gay area begin to encroach on their strained relationship.
Lindhardt is simply fantastic as Erik giving his German character just the right mix of obviously gay traits while keeping him butch enough for the Americans in the film to continually refer to his "masculinity" (the accent tends to cover the flamboyant tendencies for European ex-patriates - at least to American gays). He also is completely fearless in engaging in Erik's sexual dalliances while clearly displaying the character's heartbreaking love for Paul.
This is a breakthrough role for Booth who has mostly had supporting roles in films such as "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" and "The Beaver." The naturally boyish Booth brings a surprisingly mature composure to Paul and his binge scenes are particularly impressive for how refreshingly under played they are.
Unlike last summer's "One Day," Sachs and co-screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias thankfully avoid the exasperating yearly title card update over the film's timeframe. Instead, we pop in on the couple and their circle of friends every two years or so. Intriguingly, 2001 and the events of 9/11 are never mentioned which is somewhat odd for a movie about New Yorkers during this time period. Sachs and his production designer also include very few time period keystones avoiding almost any recognizable songs. The only mark of the period besides the phone sex line (which returns later in the film) are updated iMac and Mac computers throughout the years (and it's not easy finding those late 90s models any more). The choice in not focusing on such pop culture moments gives the film a timeless feel even when the actors really aren't aging as much as you'd expect during the period.
Sachs has fashioned one of his most moving and successful films since his debut "The Delta" way back in 1996. Lindhart's charismatic turn aside, "Lights" won't be able to generate the same attention of other modern gay classics such as "Brokeback Mountain" and "The Kids Are All Right" due to the lack of star power. Still, you'd hope Focus Features would pick up "Lights" for the right price in hopes of providing enough marketing and publicity love to achieve "Pariah" or "Weekend" results. That may be unlikely, but there is no doubt "Lights" will find its way to art house theaters across the country sometime this year.
Oh, and don't be surprised if Lindhardt finds himself with an Independent Spirit Awards or Gotham Awards nod too.
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