Directed by Todd Haynes, starring Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson and Viola Davis.

'Far From Heaven' is one of those movies that you just know Oscar voters will like. That's not to say that its three nominees - Julianne Moore (Best Actress), Elmer Bernstein (Best Music Score) and Todd Haynes (Best Original Screenplay) - will win, but it's easy to predict that none will be disgraced when it comes to totting up the votes.

The film begins in a sweeping montage of colour which immediately evokes nostalgia for the movies of yesteryear. This, of course, is the whole point. Director Haynes has deliberately set out to pay homage to the 1950s movies of Douglas Sirk et al in style, tone and colour. The subject matter here, however, is as dark as the vistas that penetrate the viewers' eyes are bright.

The narrative focuses on the middle-class Whitaker family, but the scope has a far wider resonance. Cathy Whitaker (Moore) and her husband Frank (Quaid) are the epitome of the perfect family. He is a successful sales executive, she is a devoted housewife and mother, together they are the presentable face of the community.

The Whitakers are well liked, but, as is so often the case, a little scratching on the surface reveals a far less utopian dynamic. Haynes has a delicate touch and never assaults us with any brutal visuals in key scenes. Instead, we are eased in to the secret desires, frustrations and hopes of the main players. Desire and frustration is perhaps what best sums up the whole film.

As the curtain is peeled back, the Whitakers' ostensible bliss is destroyed as Frank's secret homosexuality comes to the fore. As the shock of the discovery begins to weigh on Cathy, her only real source of comfort emerges in the shape of her gardener Raymond (Haysbert). This brings with it a whole new set of problems.

'Far From Heaven' is certainly not for everyone, and many will wish to distance themselves from the absence of tangible action and pace. But this is character-driven stuff, and hence should be evaluated on the criteria that come with that territory.

The main criterion among them is the quality of the performances on offer. Here, Haynes has hit the jackpot. The imaginative casting of Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid brings the film to a new level.

Moore expertly captures the struggle of a woman struggling not only to come to terms with her husband's homosexuality, but also with her own burgeoning desire for her African-American gardener. In the cruellest of ironies, this desire is as forbidden as her husband's. Moore, who, with her striking eyes and smile, is the perfect physical reminder of the wholesome 1950s American housewife, should run Kidman close for the Oscar.

As the closeted husband, Quaid - at odds with his stereotype of the all-American masculine hero - never goes overboard but still manages to convince as a man struggling with aching desperation to reconcile himself with the love that dare not speak its name.

The supporting players of Haysbert, Clarkson and Clarke acquit themselves well, although one might get the sense that none of their characters - especially the pivotal role played by Haysbert - is developed well enough to leave a lasting impression.

The big issues of race and sexuality are treated with emphatic empathy by Haynes, whose patience and absence of judgement allows the piece to play out gently to its obvious conclusion. This patience may detract from the dramatic oomph of the film, but sometimes less is more.

Oscar may not come calling, but he'll think damn hard about this before reaching any decisions.

Tom Grealis