by Brian McKay
With RUN LOLA RUN and PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR, German director Tom Tykwer has proven his knack for creating visually astounding and genre-defying films that serve to highlight his strange but deep and poetic characters. HEAVEN is no exception, and while Franka Potente fans may keenly feel her absence in this film, the addition of the absolutely phenomenal Cate Blanchett more than balances the books.Let me get this out of the way early. The more I see of Cate Blanchett, the more I love her. Not only is she heart-stopping beautiful, with those large and expressive eyes, but she really is a phenomenal actress. While I've only seen a handful of her films, her performances have never lacked. From the harried wife of an unfaithful air traffic controller in Pushing Tin, to the frantic psychic in The Gift, to the glorious Queen of all Elfdom in Lord of the Rings - folks, this is one hell of an actress. Now, excuse me while I get a towel.There, that's better.
"Tykwer continues his winning streak - even without his Princess Lola"
Blanchett plays Phillipa Paiccard, an English teacher who has been living in Italy for several years. She was married to an influential Italian man who has since died of a drug overdose. Knowing that her husband's friend, a wealthy businessman, is behind the local drug trade, she petitions the police endlessly to do something about it. Not only have drugs taken her husband, but they have killed a few of her students as well.
When the police prove either incapable or unwilling to do anything about it, she takes matters into her own hands. After fashioning a home-made bomb with a kitchen timer as a crude trigger device, she plants the bomb in her husband's friend's office, then calls the police to let them know that she has done so, and that he will be dead in a matter of moments.
However, through a series of chilling, unforseen events, things go horribly, catastrophically awry. When police kick her door in and drag her into an interrogation room, she is informed that the bomb she planted was removed from the office before it went off, and ended up killing several innocent bystanders instead of the man it was meant for.
Now, this is the scene that really sold me on this film. As this knowledge is imparted to her, the horrified astonishment that creeps into Blanchett's eyes is hauntingly real. As she is overcome with great, heaving sobs, we feel every inch of her shock, horror, regret, and pain. If ever a film had an "Oscar moment", it is this one.
As the interrogation continues, the police accuse her of being part of a terrorist organization and ignore her repeated claims that her dead husband's friend is a drug kingpin. It becomes evident that a cover-up is underway, and that the department is not immune to corruption.
All of this is witnessed by Phillipo (Giovanni Ribisi), a young police officer serving as stenographer and interpreter who instantly becomes sympathetic to Phillipa's plight and swiftly falls in love with her. Through an elaborate series of ploys and diversions, he helps her escape so that she can exact her revenge on the pusher man, then becomes a fugitive with her.
They both disguise themselves with jeans, white T-shirts, and shaved heads (and even with her head shaved, Cate is so very fine). Phillipa insists that she wants to go back and face trial, since she believes that she should be held responsible for her crimes. However, Phillipo's quiet persuasion, and her growing feelings for him, create a dilemma: return to face justice, or stay in hiding and take a chance on her new savior?
The performances are astounding, and while Franka Potente certainly wouldn't have done this role a disservice, Blanchett brings just a little something extra to the part. Giovanni Ribisi (who was fantastic as the tormented Buddy Cole in The Gift) holds his end up well, although his performance could only seem to wane next to Cate's light. There are a few flaws in Heaven - some scenes are too long and drawn out (although thankfully the worst of these ended up in the rather disappointing collection of deleted scenes), and the third act tends to meander quite a bit. However, the film is visually astounding, with several remarkably fluid "sky-cam" shots that pan over the landscape or around the characters from a distance and offer up some breathtaking panoramas.Tykwer's last three movies have been a hat trick of solid cinema that, while not perfect, certainly excel in most areas and stand out among the crowd of familiar and formulaic filmmaking.
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originally posted: 07/15/03 16:11:24