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`CONVERSATIONS' OFFERS MUCH TO TALK ABOUT.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

Hans Canosa's lovely romantic drama ``Conversations With Other Women'' begins with a man and woman talking to each other at a wedding reception. Things are winding down and the man is making his case for continuing the evening. The woman gamely deflects his advances, while maintaining enough openness to entertain the man's suggestions and keep them coming.

This all looks like, in the immortal words of Cole Porter, just one of those things. But it isn't. And neither is ``Conversations,'' beautifully written by Gabrielle Zevin, just one of those movies. For one thing, the whole film is told exclusively in split screen, with the actors - Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter - staying more or less on their respective sides, though director Canosa makes some allowances for movement.

This visual gambit takes some getting used to, but proves its worth in allowing the audience to focus on long takes of these two perfectly cast actors laying out their present-day regrets and recounting the sins of their past. Because, as we soon learn, their meeting at the wedding is not a chance encounter, nor is it their first. And, if the man (the characters are never named, identified only as Man and Woman) has anything to say about it, it won't be their last.

The woman, married with children and a little more adult about the whole thing (and about everything), knows better. ``It's not going to turn out well,'' she says. ``There are no happy endings in our future.''

This pronouncement certainly nails the movie's prevailing ennui, though it is uncharacteristically blunt. Even with their occasional bold punctuation marks, these ``Conversations'' are, at their essence, about avoidance.

Eckhart has become the go-to guy to play the 21st-century cad, but he always invests these jerks with a slick sincerity and a veneer of vulnerability that leaves you unsure about intentions. ``Everyone expects me to behave badly, anyways,'' he says with no small measure of self-pity, laying off his self-destructive behavior on others.

Eckhart has never been better.

The same can be said for Carter, playing a 38-year-old woman who glumly notes that she's ``too old for extraordinary,'' but not too old to believe that a night spent with the past might ease the hurt of the present. Conflicting beliefs? Sure, but ``Conversations'' is all about the push and pull of opposing forces with nary a winner in sight.

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHER WOMEN - Three stars

(R: sexual situations, language)

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Helena Bonham Carter.

Director: Hans Canosa.

Running time: 1 hr. 24 min.

Playing: Laemmle One Colorado in Pasadena; Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood; Landmark Westside Pavilion in West Los Angeles, Edwards South Coast Village 3 in Costa Mesa.

In a nutshell: Split-screen romantic drama about a split couple's one-night reunion. Beautifully written, marvelously acted by Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart are a former couple who have a one-night reunion in ``Conversations With Other Women.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 11, 2006
Words:509
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