If a heavily bearded Joaquin Phoenix has indeed turned his back on acting to, God help us, become a rapper, Two Lovers is the perfect way for the star to sign off.

The Oscar-nominated actor puts in an impressively nuanced performance in James Gray’s slow-burning romantic drama.

Phoenix plays Leonard, a severely depressed man who, after repeated suicide attempts, moves in with his parents in Brooklyn.

To try to get him out of his funk, his folks arrange a meeting with the pretty daughter of a family friend.

Leonard, though, is more interested in Michelle (Paltrow, in fine form), his sexy upstairs neighbour who has been put up in a flat by the married man she’s seeing.

With the film’s slight, predictable storyline crawling along for almost two hours, Phoenix has it all to do to keep us awake.

He’s more than up to it, delivering a thought-provoking turn as the creepy, conflicted Leonard, whose obsession with an unattainable woman threatens to destroy his life.

It’s the sort of tour de force that makes you hope Phoenix will hang up his mic and return to what he does best.

Good for: One last look at a mercurial talent. PIERRE DE VILLIERS