Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • TBC
  • Drama
  • 2005
  • 108 mins

Forty Shades Of Blue

Forty Shades Of Blue


Rip Torn and Dina Korzun show their many blue sides in Ira Sachs' second feature


Writer-director Ira Sachs likes to depict the clash of cultures. Where the main character in his debut feature The Delta was a half-black, half-Vietnamese gay man living in Memphis, his second film Forty Shades Of Blue portrays an aging Memphis music producer renowned for successfully fusing the music of blacks and whites back in the 1960s and 1970s, but now utterly incapable of bridging the gap between himself, his much younger Russian girlfriend, and his adult son.

Music legend Alan James (Torn) is a larger-than-life monster of a man: egotistical, imperious, philandering, and eclipsing anyone who enters his orbit. Yet even if the film's events hinge upon two public events celebrating Alan's lifetime achievements, Sachs brings to the fore precisely those characters who seem otherwise destined always to take a backseat (literally, in one scene) to Alan. For it is in Alan's shadow that his trophy partner Laura (Korzun) and estranged son Michael (Burrows) find unexpected common ground, and the affair upon which they eventually embark exposes the vulnerabilities and compromises of all three, resigned as they are to living a lie.

Alan likes to imagine that he is still in his heyday, not least because of the entourage of sycophantic hangers-on that he commands; but in fact, despite his repeated assertions that the music is all that really matters in the industry, he has become little more than a money counter, cashing in on his own legendary status for all that it is worth. Towards the film's end, a scene in which he growls in drunken resentment at a group of laughing Afro-American youths captures precisely what a dinosaur he has become, completely out-of-touch with his core audience, and not a little ridiculous.

If Alan's tragedy is a willful incomprehension of the reality of his advancing years, then Laura's is a willingness to go along with an unloving relationship. She is not so much Alan's equal as his (pampered) maid and a badge of his own 'staying power' (as one character puts it). Laura hides her unhappiness beneath the expensive outfits, jewelry and make-up that her life with Alan can afford, until her liaison with the married Michael brings all her sadness and longing to the surface - as well as the possibility of just walking away. Michael, too, may in the end leave Alan, much as he had done five years earlier. But trapped in a relationship with his father based on repulsion and envy, Michael has become a lot more like Alan than he would want to admit, and seems just as doomed to a loveless, alienated existence.

As its title suggests, Forty Shades Of Blue is a nuanced riff on yearning and melancholy, full of close observations on the shifting moods of its central characters. It is, however, possible for a film to be too subtle, and some may find that beneath this film's many layered shades there is too little actual substance. Without question the performances of Torn and Korzun are note perfect, but there is little else here to engage the interest of the viewer, and their characters would have been better served by tighter plotting. It is not unlike watching a group of talented musicians left to noodle with their instruments: the resulting piece may be raw and dirty, and full of the sort of craft that comes from genuine experience, but its lack of shape prevents it from sounding like a finished product.

For this to have won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, independent cinema must have been having a particularly colourless year.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Jenny O'Hara, Rip Torn, Red West, Paprika Steen, Dina Korzun, Darren Burrows
  • Director: Ira Sachs
  • Screen Writer: Ira Sachs, Michael Rohatyn
  • Producer: Ira Sachs, Donald Rosenfeld, Jawal Nga, Margot Bridger, Mary Bing
  • Photographer: Julian Whatley
  • Composer: Dickon Hinchliffe

In a nutshell

This plodding mood-piece is as emotionally engaging as a paint catalogue.

by Anton Bitel

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4

    Carry On Jack

    Bernard Cribbins, Juliet Mills and Kenneth Williams star in Gerard Thomas's 19th-century high-seas romp, the first of the Carry On comedies to adopt period costume.

  • Film4

    Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon

    Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and Lionel Atwill star in director Roy William Neill's Second World War spy adventure.

  • Film4

    Youth on Film4

    Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Rachel Weisz star in Film4s first play of Youth, from acclaimed director Paolo Sorrentino

  • Film4

    Young Adult on Film4

    Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson star in Young Adult, playing on Film4 for the first time.

Register with

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register