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You can keep your 3D and blue screen. For my money, the most exciting scene of the summer comes as Logan Lerman and Tracy Letts let it rip in this Philip Roth adaptation.

 James Schamus has mounted this period drama with the respect of a fellow dramatic writer. Roth, who is never the easiest of novelists, has proven especially tricky to adapt for the screen. In this elegant translation, Schamus not only establishes his own directorial career, but offers true appreciation for one of the lesser known and later works of one of America’s most acclaimed (and argued about) writers.

We meet Marcus in the summer of 1951, just as he is about to leave his working class Newark, New Jersey Jewish enclave for college in Ohio. Not only is he about to expand his world, he is also, by attending the small conservative school, earning an exemption from the Korean War draft. But Marcus isn’t playing it safe: he argues with his professors, opts out of the only Jewish fraternity and can’t deny his attraction to the wildest, most complicated girl on campus. As is often the case in Roth works, hers might be a most risky kiss of death.

Logan Lerman, impressive in vehicles as diverse as the Percy Jackson movies to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is especially strong here, drawing us in to Marcus’ independent fury. Sarah Gadon, too, makes a fine impression. But we ramp up the stakes when Tracy Letts, one of our finest actors, shows up for a few, unforgettable scenes. I love watching this veteran of both stage and screen do his thing, always starting his most compelling turns slowly, building to a crescendo that is still, somehow, surprising. In their key scene together, Letts and Lerman go at it. What happens, plotwise, may not be fun, but watching them surely is.

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