Sony // 2009 // 77 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 17th, 2009
People die...get over it.
"Look, I can do this as high as Hendrix, but not if I've got the shakes, see?"
Eve (Zoe Bell, Death Proof) has made a life for herself as a tough-as-nails assassin. Whenever there's a complicated hit that needs to go down, Eve is the woman the top guys call. Unfortunately, her latest assignment took a nasty turn. In the middle of taking out a posse of tough guys, Eve is stabbed in the head. Yes, you heard that correctly, stabbed in the head. She stumbles out of the building with a massive knife lodged firmly in her brain. An associate takes Eve to see a heroin-addicted mob doctor (Doug Jones, Pan's Labyrinth) whose idea of brain surgery is simply pulling the knife out and putting a bandage out the wound. Somehow, Eve survives the procedure. Initially she seems to be okay, but on her next assignment she is startled to discover that she can't pull the trigger on a target. Eve furiously returns to the doctor, demanding to know what he's done to her that is making her feel bad about what she's done. The doctor insists that he hasn't done anything. For some reason, Eve simply can't kill the people she's supposed to and has a sudden urge to take down some very dangerous people. In no time at all, Eve finds herself on the run. Can she survive the legions of thugs now on her tail? Even if she does, it doesn't look like there's much hope for a happy ending.
If you're not familiar with Ed Brubaker, you probably should be. He's one of the strongest mainstream comic book writers currently working today. While working for DC Comics, Brubaker co-created the critically acclaimed Gotham Central with Greg Rucka and also completely revitalized the Catwoman title. Moving over to Marvel, he gave us an incredibly strong run of noir fiction on Daredevil and is currently in the middle of his superb work on Captain America. Meanwhile, Brubaker has been writing some crackling crime fiction in a creator-owned series called Criminal. It was that series that led up-and-coming filmmakers John Norris and Paul Etheridge to approach Brubaker about writing an internet crime series for actress and stuntwoman Zoe Bell. Brubaker responded with enthusiasm to the idea, offering Norris and Etheridge a variation on a Criminal plot he had conceived but hadn't actually used yet. Some months later, the internet miniseries Angel of Death appeared.
I caught the first couple episodes of the series when it debuted online, but for one reason or another never really got around to finishing it. So, I was glad to be able to check out the whole thing on DVD. I expected it to feel like a series of connected pieces, but it actually works quite well re-arranged as a feature film. Granted, the budget is pretty small and some of the cast members are clearly amateurs, but this is a rather entertaining old-fashioned crime flick that delivers an engaging story and some genuinely memorable moments. Brubaker slyly suggests that Angel of Death is, "A real grindhouse movie." It's violent, messy, cool little flick that gets the job done (no pun intended) with efficiency and energy.
Zoe Bell initially seems just a little bit awkward in the role of Eve. Bell had a natural charisma playing herself in Death Proof, but in Angel of Death it seems at first as if she is posing. Fortunately, that vibe only lasts for the first ten minutes or so. After the head injury takes place, Bell begins to give the character intriguing dimensions. Early on it seemed as if Angel of Death might simply be all style and no substance, but there are some moral complexities at work here. Did the head injury remove whatever was separating Eve's conscience from her brain? If her conscience is killing her from killing innocent people, will it also keep her from killing the guilty? These questions may be in the background, but they're certainly there. The best supporting performances come from Doug Jones and Lucy Lawless, both of whom are immensely entertaining in their own peculiar ways. Genre fans will undoubtedly be tickled to see Ted Raimi turn up for a brief but memorable scene.
There is a fairly high action quotient throughout Angel of Death, and with Bell involved you can imagine that much of it is rather impressively intense. It gets quite bloody at times (this unrated film is firmly in R-rated territory), but viewers with strong stomachs for this sort of thing will enjoy the darkly amusing pleasures of the action sequences presented here. This film is making do with what is has available, and it takes advantage of Bell's gifts for physically intense scenes as frequently as possible. I also enjoyed some of the comic book-inspired visual ideas, as various scenes are presented as a series of eye-catching moving panels.
The transfer is actually pretty disappointing, particularly in terms of the darker scenes. On occasion, Angel of Death is much too murky and incomprehensible. Some of this comes from the intentionally gritty and desaturated look of things, some of it comes from the poor lighting, but it must be said that the somewhat weak transfer just doesn't help. Black crush is a problem at times, and the level of detail varies throughout. Facial detail is generally excellent, but background detail is slightly lacking. Audio is pretty strong throughout, though occasionally the guitar-driven score threatens to overwhelm the dialogue.
The supplemental package is quite generous, which is a nice surprise. First up is an engaging audio commentary with Etheridge, Brubaker and Bell which offers lots of interesting tidbits on various aspects of the film. It's a good listen. Also well worth checking out is, "The Making of Angel of Death" (30 minutes), a rather good documentary which chronicles the usual making-of aspects and also offers a discussion of the potential future of internet entertainment. "Casting an Angel: Zoe Bell as Eve," (14 minutes) gives everyone a chance to talk about how wonderful the actress is, while "Writing, Ed Brubaker-Style," (15 minutes) offers the same measure of praise to the writer. You also get "Behind the Stunts," (16 minutes) Zoe Bell's screen test, and some cheesy "tips for killing" featuring Bell.
It's not a crime classic by any means, but Angel of Death is a fun little film that achieves its modest goals in enjoyable fashion. The transfer is disappointing, but the strong supplemental package is great compensation for that. Give it a look.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Screen Test