Bold Themes Lose Their Edge in 'Rubies'

Too few movies focus seriously on women, and fewer still combine this with an interest in religious life. These factors make "A Price Above Rubies" a newsmaking arrival, although the picture's quality doesn't live up to its subject.

Rene Zellweger, who made such a fine showing in "Jerry Maguire" and "The Whole Wide World," plays an Orthodox Jewish woman who feels increasingly stifled in her male-dominated community.

Her husband loves her, but his highly traditional religious views - and rising status as a local Hasidic leader - turn his attention away from her problems.

Accepting a job in New York's fabled "diamond district," she moves toward new levels of professional independence and personal fulfillment. Her enthusiasm for mingling with outsiders is noted with scorn by many of her neighbors and relatives, however, leading to new crises and hard decisions.

"A Price Above Rubies" would have more impact if filmmaker Boaz Yakin didn't allow its energy level to sag in several scenes, and if he avoided some lapses into Hollywood-style sensationalism, including an unnecessary sexual affair between the heroine and her husband's brother.

Zellweger gives a strong performance, and the story etches an intermittently sharp portrait of a subculture caught between a rich historical legacy and a changing contemporary world.

But the movie as a whole achieves far less dramatic power than Yakin's extraordinary "Fresh" four years ago, suggesting that he has tackled a bit more than he's prepared to handle this time around.

* Rated R. Contains sex and rough language.

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