Angel Eyes (2001)

D: Luis Mandoki
S: Jennifer Lopez, Jim Caviezel

Romantic melodrama with Jennifer Lopez (The Cell, Out of Sight) as a lonely cop who seems to have a guardian angel in the form of drifter Jim Caviezel (The Thin Red Line, Frequency). After he turns up more than once to play knight in shining armour, the standoffish officer becomes intrigued by this man without a past who seems intent on doing her good. In the way of these things both begin to understand themselves a little better as they begin to unravel the mysteries of each other, leading to the inevitable catharsis. Well, three scenes of catharsis actually, and perhaps at least one too many at that, the last of which especially tests the limits of one's suspension of disbelief. This is a low key slow burn film which takes its time getting to a pretty obvious conclusion, then demands great empathy to swallow its tear jerking finale. As melodramas go, it is not that bad, but it doesn't necessarily carry as much weight as it seems to presume, or a least not enough to quite get away with its final quarter.

There are faint echoes of The Sixth Sense and Ghost in the film's ethereal treatment of its leading man. Caviezel, possessed of piercing eyes which may or may not be the subject of the title, makes a haunting presence as he skulks and wanders about the screen staring soulfully at Lopez and playing his peculiar part in her world. Without wanting to spoil the plot, and this doesn't, he is not a ghost; but the sense of other worldliness is crucial to the film's central gambit. Lopez' character is portrayed as largely untouchable. In spite of obligatory socialising, she is hard and closed off in a way which makes her (in the logic of the genre), all the more vulnerable and receptive to Caviezel's charms. The brooding Heathcliff-like male lead occupies a role which is partly fantasy and partly wishful thinking, and as she begins to dig deeper into his enigma, she is forced to confront questions about herself which will, naturally, ultimately bring her out of that shell and into a new world. It is also a generic prerequisite that this same process will bring him out of his self-imposed exile from humanity and into a full and loving relationship with his lady fair, whose own deep, rich eyes have a part to play.

Gerald Di Pego's script plays by rote, but does so with a believable level of anecdotal realism. The characters have enough corners to make them interesting and the dialogue is never hamfisted. It does not quite draw you in as much as it would like, but it does not repel you either. There are enough moments of psychological and emotional insight which feel true in spite of the narrative contrivance inevitable with genre writing. Director Luis Mandoki concentrates on sustaining a melancholy tone conducive to an atmosphere of romantic tension, and as the script follows the standard rise and fall of this unlikely relationship, the film tells its story with tonal consistency.

Lopez has great beauty and presence and she can be a capable performer. She is not bad here, but does seem to be reinventing the school of sleep-acting which one thought might have died with Robert Mitchum. She seems so withdrawn and laid back that one suspects she might slip into a coma at any minute, and though this does suggest her loneliness and reflective personality, it runs the risk of putting the audience to sleep as well. Again, Di Pego and Mandoki keep enough pistons pumping to move the narrative along, so the audience goes with it. Caviezel is pretty good for his part, doing a line in emotional distress and psychological intensity which seems believably painful. Again, this is not the most original character in the world, but the actor does his best with it and should make a pleasingly soulful masculine paragon for the intended audience.

Angel Eyes is not a film anyone really needs to see, but it is a solid genre entry which should appeal to fans of romantic fiction. It is a little slow and occasionally a little heavy on the psychobabble, but on the whole it follows the established patterns and delivers the expected rewards of the penny pocket romance with a little more spiritual reflection. It only tries the patience in the final scenes and its resolution is dubiously convenient, but if you have enjoyed the film on the whole then this really will not matter.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2001.