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Secretary

How director Steven Shainberg got away with making such a freakishly good movie is a glad mystery. Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) gets out of mental hospital (she mutilates herself) and finds a job as a secretary in a law firm run by the quirky E. Edward Grey (James Spader). So far, so good… But Grey, a man of few words, senses Holloway’s oddness and introduces himself to her vulnerabilities, which in turn helps him expose his own: the result is a romantic “comedy” about sadomaschism. Gyllenhaal and Spader never once exaggerate their hands. In fact, they underplay so successfully that the movie’s erotic index — nudity is secondary, almost incidental — is off all conventional charts. Difficult to imagine better character chemistry than what the two leads accomplish in this tensely marvelous film about gender, power, and kindness.