A carefully observed autumnal character study loosely in the vein of last year’s Starting Out in the Evening, Elegy is based on Philip Roth’s novel, and directed by Isabel Coixet (My Life Without Me). The film charts the relationship between a celebrated college professor, David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), and Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz), a gorgeous student who punctures his wry, protective veneer. As their affair ignites, frays and recommences, Kepesh must come to grips with the possibility of a deeper love.
As adapted by Nicholas Meyer, Elegy alternately gallops and yawns. Even at 112 minutes it doesn’t feel built to cover quite this much ground, to fully keep up with the ambition of its narrative roots, which include assaying the loss of a good friend and Kepesh’s estranged relationship with his married son (Peter Sarsgaard), who feels compelled to act out in the same ways that his father did years before. The leg up that Elegy has on a lot of thematically similar tales of power-imbalanced romance is that Kepesh is of course a very literate and self-aware figure, so we enjoy an articulated sense of how one no-strings-attached lover (Patricia Clarkson) is merely a comfortable point of contact with past self-confidence while a similar arrangement with Consuela scares him so. The performances here are committed and quietly engaging, and Coixet, serving as her own camera operator, beautifully captures the lingering, jangled spaces between all parties, and how even the most intelligent among us can build up a justification for walls of isolation. (Samuel Goldwyn, R, 112 minutes)