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The Caveman's Valentine  

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson...............Romulus
Colm Feore......................Leppenraub
Ann Magnuson....................Moira
Damir Andrei....................Arnold
Aunjanue Ellis..................Lulu
Tamara Tunie....................Sheila
Peter MacNeill..................Cork
Jay Rodan.......................Joey/No Face
Rodney Eastman..................Matthew
Anthony Michael Hall............Bob
Kate McNeil.....................Betty
Leonard L. Thomas...............Shaker/Greater No Face
Pierre Alcide...................Toupee
Richard Fitzpatrick.............Walter
Sean MacMahon...................Scotty

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons Written by: George Dawes Green Based on the novel by George Dawes Green

Rated R for language, some violence and sexuality Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Caveman's Valentine
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"Don't look at me like that!" the disheveled homeless man cries, "I know you! You work for him! You work for Stuyvesant!" His words echo from the deepest level of psychosis. The perpetual trembling of his limbs accentuate the paranoia eminating from his accusatory words. Cornelius Gould Stuyvesant is his imaginary adversary who governs all of society with an iron fist from atop the Chrysler Building.

The man's name is Romulus Ledbetter (Samuel L. Jackson). He is a former Juilliard-trained pianist and devoted family man who now lives in a remote cave on the extreme outskirts of Manhattan. His complex mind houses delusions of paranoia. His vitriolic verbal attacks are aimed at anyone who he believes is a disciple of the demonic Stuyvesant.

One morning he wakes to a horrific discovery. Outside his cave, the frozen corpse of a young drifter sits lifeless in a tree. The police dismiss it as a simple case of a transient freezing to death. But Romulus believes the young boy was murdered by David Leppenraub (Colm Feore), a prominent artist and photographer. The boy posed as a model for the twisted lensman, many of his artworks carrying a nihilistic attraction toward pain and suffering. Despite his certainty that the boy was murdered, Romulus will have a difficult time proving his case, as his state-of-mind obviously hampers his credibility. With the help of an unusually kind attorney (Anthony Michael Hall) and his reluctant, emotionally-isolated daughter Lulu (Aunjanue Ellis), Romulus begins his quest to discover the truth.

"The Caveman's Valentine" is the second feature film from director Kasi Lemmons, whose "Eve's Bayou" was one of the best movies of its year. While not quite as meticulously contructed as her debut, "Valentine" is still a very fascinating suspense yarn elevated by a brilliant performance from Samuel L. Jackson. The slightest step in the wrong direction could have easily turned the character of Romulus into a buffoon, being viewed by the audience in the same incredulous way as the characters he encountered on the street. But Jackson hits every note perfectly; his bouts of mental anguish are not doused with over-the-top histrionics, his quiet moments of longing are not marred by laborious sentiment, and his detective-like discoveries are not undermined by too much self-awareness. Jackson superbly balances all aspects of his performance as he navigates his way through this jigsaw puzzle of an investigation, all the while fighting off the psychological demons that hover over his every thought, emotion, and discovery.

Lemmons handles the varied facets of the story well, although some of the techniques utilized are somewhat extreme. The most distracting involves the cutaways of demons and hellish illuminations symbolizing Romulus' mental dipalidation. I understand their use, but the psychological deterioration is expressed in the most perspicuous manner by Jackson, leaving the effects (masterful as they are) to be an abstraction more than anything else.

The screenplay was adapted by George Dawes Green from his novel of the same name, and it doesn't stray from the familiar elements found in most suspense thrillers. But the movie's familiar plotting and over-the-top visual techniques didn't distract me from being drawn in by the plight of a man as unusual as they come, but tenacious enough to reach beyond the demons that circumambulate him, and discover the truth hidden in the labyrinthine world he occupies.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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