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3 FRIENDS AND A FUNERAL

"Lawless Heart" is equal parts drama, comedy, mystery and meditation on the human condition. It's also a minor miracle of filmmaking, offering three vignettes chronicling the same events from the perspective of three characters without once slowing the pace or losing the feel of a unified narrative.

The title refers to the emotional havoc wrought by accidental death. The film is centered around the funeral for Stuart, whose untimely death at 38 has unhinged his brother-in-law, Dan, devastated his lover, Nick, and precipitated the return after eight years of his best friend, Tim.

By telling the story in three parts, writer-directors Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsinger are able to explore the unique perspectives of -- and different starring roles in their own individual dramas to -- first Dan, then Nick, then Tim over the same few days.

But since the three are all players in each other's dramas, it's only at the end of the film that the significance of small happenings and first glimpses of characters becomes clear. (This also makes the movie even more interesting the second time around, to spot the clues you missed the first time.) A woman passing a phone booth in Dan's film turns out to be a major player in Tim's film. A broken sugar bowl, even a hideous scarf, take on a different significance in different parts of the story.

Dan, played with mournful dignity by Bill Nighy, is a husband and father who is struggling with financial problems when he runs into a midlife crisis in the form of a handsome Frenchwoman (Clementine Celarie) he meets at Stuart's funeral.

Nick, played with affecting vulnerability by Tom Hollander, is pondering a move back to London when he is befriended by a lively, warmhearted young woman (an adorable Sukie Smith) and finds himself in a state of sexual confusion.

Brash, carefree Tim (Douglas Henshall) arrives home to a cold greeting from his father, moves in temporarily with Nick and finds the woman of his dreams -- the beautiful but secretive owner of the local dress shop.

Without skipping a beat, "Lawless Heart" explores both human loneliness and connection and ties up its separate narratives with a simple but perfect ending: a home movie of Stuart, whose parting smile seems a benediction.

LAWLESS HEART

* * * *

STARRING: Bill Nighy, Douglas Henshall and Tom Hollander

DIRECTORS: Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsinger

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

RATING: R for strong sexuality/nudity and language.

THE LOWDOWN: Devastated by Stuart's death, his brother-in-law, lover and best friend decide to take their lives in hand.

e-mail: jwestmoore@buffnews.com

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