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James Franco stars in this downbeat, deliberately paced existential thriller. Writer-director Jay Anania, a New York University film professor, alternates between an enigmatic drifter (Franco), a gangster (Josh Lucas), and a call girl (Law & Order: Criminal Intent's Julianne Nicholson). The time line, unfortunately, is hard to follow, though it goes something like this: after he misses a flight that crashes, killing everyone on board, Franco's antihero takes the opportunity to start over. As he explains in his mumbled voice-over, he moves back to Manhattan, becomes an editor of nature videos, and changes his name from Joseph to William. When he isn't working out of his storefront apartment, William spends hours walking the streets and eating alone in diners, where he sometimes argues with other patrons. One afternoon, an unnamed crime boss catches him in a criminal act, and recruits him to run errands (he doesn't seem to have much of a choice). To thank him for his services, the boss's sympathetic henchman, Victor (Martin Donovan), introduces William to Ann, with whom he starts spending time--until the boss asks them to stop. William can't stop thinking about her, though, and acts on an impulse that forces him to flee the city. Four years later, he returns to win her back. Because Anania relies on natural light, most every scene is under-lit, which adds to the remote feel, while John Medeski's drone-drenched score furthers the somnambulant mood. As low-budget noirs go, Shadows and Lies is different. But different isn't always better. --Kathleen C. Fennessy