'Vincent and Theo' looks at Van Gogh from surprising new angle



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Director Robert Altman, one of the few maverick American filmmakers of the last 25 years, enters the realm of the artist's bio-pic with "Vincent and Theo"; as usual, he presents us with something fresh, unexpected and moving.

Artist Vincent Van Gogh has long been the subject of films, ranging from documentaries to dramas like "Lust for Life," starring Kirk Douglas. Mr. Altman's take is decidedly different from much of what's been done before -- stresses the relationship between Vincent and his brother Theo, and this is as it should be.

A brave and tortured man, like his brother, Theo had a task that was nearly as daunting as the artist's: He attempted to clear a path for Vincent's radical work in the art world (and the world of finance as well -- their existence involved a continuous state of near-poverty). Neither Vincent, a strange, unpredictable man, nor his work were accepted into proper art society, and he and his brother suffered terribly as a result. But without Theo's efforts we would not today be able to celebrate Vincent Van Gogh's genius to the extent that we can.

As Vincent and Theo, British actors Tim Roth and Paul Rhys, little known in America, give absorbing, energetic performances. They do seem to be brothers -- radically different in some ways, yet sharing some traits the way identical twins might. Mr. Altman shows how their lives, consciously and unconsciously, paralleled each other's in amazing ways, especially as they reached the end of their roads, and the pain and the madness grew.

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