Breathless, hot, and clammy, watching Leo is like spending a summer night in the rural Deep South of America. That's the setting for this torturous tale, told in flashbacks and flashforwards, which follows two seemingly unconnected characters who discover that their lives are inextricably intertwined. Stephen (Joseph Fiennes) is a recently released convict on parole, while Mary (Elisabeth Shue) the despairing wife of a high-flying English professor. Artful to the point of being arsy, it's occasionally absorbing, but sometimes stultifying.
Looking like some long-lost relative of Forrest Gump, complete with a naff suit and a buttoned up shirt, Stephen takes a job in an out-of-the-way diner while he completes his parole. Before you can shout "Run, Forrest, run!", he's fallen out with Horace (Dennis Hopper), a spiteful bully who likes humiliating the staff. Disaster threatens. In another time and another place, bored housewife Mary suspects her university lecturer husband has turned into a cheating letch. In revenge, she lets painter/decorator Ryan (Justin Chambers) seduce her.
As the film's mystery unravels, the two seemingly unconnected events will have a deeper significance than anyone involved could ever realise.
Blessed with some masterful acting, this distinctly literary drama wears its highbrow credentials on its sleeve with a series of subtle (and not so subtle) references to James Joyce's hernia-inducing tome Ulysses. While Fiennes is brilliantly messianic in the title role, the film belongs to Shue. This is easily her best performance since she watched Nicolas Cage drink himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas.
There's the occasional misstep among the supporting cast: Sam Shepard's role as Stephen's saviour seems glib; and Hopper's villain could have been cut from cardboard. Yet as the brooding cinematography turns this intimate domestic drama into grand tragedy, Leo proves a fine film: robust, melancholy and quietly affecting.