While watching the theatrical trailer and television ads for "Angel Eyes" would lead you to believe the film is a supernatural romance, along the lines of 1990's "Ghost" or 1998's "City of Angels," it really isn't at all. "Angel Eyes" is a romance, to be sure, but it goes so much deeper than the soapy genre usually permits, and turns out to not have any connection with otherworldly entities. Infinitely more mature and delicately plotted than most big, studio-distributed love stories, it enraptures you in its humane characters and their plight from the very beginning, and doesn't let go until the emotionally honest conclusion.
Chicago P.D. officer Sharon Pogue (Jennifer Lopez) has had a rough year. Although she loves her job, she is mostly estranged from her entire family, and is living a lonely, single life. During a near-tragic fight with a drive-by shooter, her life is spared with the help of Chase (Jim Caviezel), an alluringly mysterious man with no last name who stops the suspect just before he is about to shoot Sharon in the head. Chase doesn't ever seem to want to talk much about himself, but he is helplessly attracted to Sharon, and she can't help but be drawn to his obscure mystique--and his willingness to go out of his way to be "good" to people, and do the right thing. Chase is hiding something, though, and Sharon knows it. After all, people just don't show up in the middle of nowhere and risk their life for a complete stranger.
In what has, thus far, been a lackluster year with virtually no truly great movies, "Angel Eyes" is one of the better films of 2001. Directed by Luis Mandoki (1994's "When a Man Loves a Woman"), it is a rare motion picture that refreshingly doesn't feel the need to create big plot twists and mechanically-created problems. The movie falsely sets the viewer up for surprises and unforeseen turns, only to uncover a stirring multiple character study of two people who may or may not have met by chance, and are struggling to make sense of everything--the good, as well as the bad--that has happened in their lives.
In what is her most powerful performance, to date, Jennifer Lopez (2001's "The Wedding Planner
") is really shaping up to be one of the great actresses of her generation. So much more than just a pretty face, Lopez is strong-willed and profoundly touching as officer Sharon Pogue, not to mention completely plausible as a professional, trained cop. The journey that Lopez takes through the duration of the story is one of great catharsis and understanding, and the pain she feels from being shut off by her father for doing something she firmly believed was right is palpably sustained.
Fulfilling his part of the bargain, and more, Jim Caviezel (2000's "Frequency") is appropriately subtle, and all the more effective because of his on-target portrayal of the inscrutable Chase. Chase's backstory, which is intentionally hidden until the third act, is fairly predictable, but the realism that he brings to these grievous circumstances could not have worked so well with a lesser actor in the role.
The rest of the actors taking up space along the edges have small, but pivotal parts, all of which are fully realized. Sonia Braga (1995's "Two Deaths") and Victor Argo (2000's "The Yards") are poignant as Sharon's parents, and Jeremy Sisto (1995's "Clueless") strongly plays Sharon's brother, of whom she's seen her relationship with also falter. Veteran actress Shirley Knight (2001's "The Center of the World") also turns up as an equally mysterious acquaintance of Chase's.
The romance that blossoms between Sharon and Chase is one that is sharply written by screenwriter Gerald Di Pego, capturing all of the nuances of the growing love that occurs between two people. There is an obligatory love scene between the two characters, but it also happens to be one of the most simplistic and steamy that has ended up onscreen in some time. For once, the entrance of sex into the story is not gratuitous, but powerful, as it is about characters coming together and connecting in the closest way they know how, rather than to just merely titillate the audience.
"Angel Eyes," grittily photographed by Piotr Sobocinski and lushly scored by Marco Beltrami, is of a growingly scarce breed. It is an intelligent, impassioned adult romance that has a lot to say, and doesn't feel the need to let a rock soundtrack full of love ballads explain it. Director Mandoki lets his characters actually talk, and lets the viewer get to know and care about what happens to them. And at the center of everything, Jennifer Lopez, once and for all, exposes herself to be exactly what she has been hinting at for several years: a genuine movie star.
©2001 by Dustin Putman