MGM // 2002 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // July 19th, 2002
"Grief often gets in the way." -- Maddy Bennett
You have not seen this movie, but it's story has been told a hundred times before. Given a very limited release earlier this year, A Rumor of Angels tells a tale of grief, pain, and loss for two people. How do you cope with the death of a family member? How do you overcome the pain and sorrow that can overwhelm you? Can you find someone with whom to share your grief?
The story is mostly a retread of clichéd material and does not offer any new or significant plot developments. Yet, this film does rise above the crowd with its strong acting and character development. It is a warm, deep, and rich tale of dealing with the anguish of death.
James Neubauer (Trevor Morgan, The Rookie, Jurassic Park III, The Patriot) lost his mother two years ago but has not yet been able to cope with her death. What makes it so hard is the fact that he was with her that day and blames himself for contributing to her death. He's never been able to talk to his father, Nathan (Ray Liotta, John Q, Hannibal, Cop Land), about his feelings, and now he has a step mom, Mary (Catherine McCormack, Spy Game, The Tailor of Panama, Braveheart), whom he wants nothing to do with. Adding to James' problems is that his father is never home; he is always traveling on business, leaving James with his unwanted stepmother. He's a very sad, unhappy, and uncomfortable young man.
His father and stepmom do love James with all their heart, but they do not realize the depth of their son's pain. As James never wanted a new mom, he resents Mary and won't allow her into his life. His one reprieve at home is his Uncle Charlie (Ron Livingston, Band of Brothers, The Practice, Office Space), an eccentric guy who can best be described as a goofball. But, he's a good guy who is the only person who allows James be the person that he is.
As we've learned over time, in every small town there's a weird old lady that lives by herself; and this town is no exception. Maddy Bennett (Vanessa Redgrave, The Pledge, Deep Impact, Howards End) lives up by the lighthouse and everyone in town knows and fears her. She's very odd and quite inhospitable, and no one dares let her know that they're anywhere near her property. Unfortunately, James isn't so lucky one night. While on an imaginary spy mission, James is discovered by Maddy, who is decidedly unhappy to find a trespasser skulking about. She immediately levels her shotgun at the boy, who makes a quick dash away. In his haste, he runs through and destroys part of her fence; but, he does escape mostly unharmed.
The next day Maddy shows up at the Neubauer home looking for the boy who broke her fence. Uncle Charlie leads the lamb to the slaughter as he volunteers James to go up and fix the fence. With great trepidation, James goes back to Maddy's house to fix the damaged fence.
James: "But she fired a gun at me!"
Charlie: "Well, did she hit you?"
Charlie: "Then what are you crying about? Besides, it's only salt."
Over the next couple of days, he grudgingly repairs the fence and begins to make the acquaintance of the odd old lady. Of course, we know that Maddy is simply misunderstood -- but still truly a bit eccentric. On the last day of repairing the fence, Mary shows up to talk to James. Immediately, Maddy can see the resentment James has for his stepmother and insightfully offers James extra work around the property. James is surprised by the offer but jumps at the chance to stay away from Mary.
In typical movie fashion, the two begin to get to know each other. They both discover that they have lost members of their family -- James his mom and Maddy her son. They've both been unable to come to terms with the loss; but together, they're able to help each other heal their emotional scars. In short order, the two become very close friends. Their friendship allows them to talk about their grief, it allows them to release their pain, and it allows them to come to terms with their loss.
But Mary is somewhat uncomfortable with Maddy and soon learns that she's been discussing matters of death with James. Mary informs Nathan and the two of them confront Maddy and ask her to stay away from James, as it isn't Maddy's place to talk about death with James. They don't realize how much Maddy has been helping their son; they simply feel she is spinning wild fantasies of life and death, which will only deepen the loss of his mother. Will Maddy and James stay away from each other? Will they help each other overcome the loss of their loved ones? Can James, Nathan, and Mary come together as a family? Will everyone be able to lead happier lives? Will Charlie's tomatoes turn out better this season?
As you can tell, this movie is yet another in a long string of films where two people help each other resolve their emotional crises. I was truly dreading this film because I knew I'd see it far too many times already. But, surprisingly, I liked this movie. It's not the story that grabs you but the characters that charm you. In particular, it's Vanessa Redgrave and Ron Livingston's characters that add real charm and enjoyment to the experience. Ron has done a variety of characters over the years, and I think he went back and pulled a little Peter Gibbons out of the closet to portray Uncle Charlie. It's his relaxed way of looking at things and his no-nonsense approach to his nephew that are really quite funny and make his character quite endearing.
As always, Vanessa Redgrave is simply superb in her role; she completely embodies the persona of the eccentric old lady. There's a wide range of emotions being portrayed by Vanessa, and each is done convincingly -- one moment she's menacing and the next she's loving. But there's more to her character than that! Giving credit where it's due, the script actually does flesh out Maddy's character quite well and really does make her eccentric. My favorite quirk is her unabashed enthusiasm for life. This clearly comes to light early on in the movie when she's trying to show James how to paint a fence. He thinks it's going to be boring, but Maddy runs into her house, opens her windows, and blasts Mozart. She conducts as she paints and reveals her inner child. There's something intangible about that scene that is wonderful, and it was the turning point when I realized that I would enjoy the film.
The transfers for the disc are very good, which is something we should expect to see in such a recent movie. For the first five minutes of the movie, the picture comes across soft and a bit hazy. Fortunately, that clears up nicely and everything comes well into focus. The picture ends up sharp and pleasing with accurate, rich colors, and no edge enhancement or artifacting. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is very nice for a drama and makes good use of the surrounds and subwoofer, which add to the overall feeling of the movie.
This is a bare bones release and the only "bonus features" are the theatrical trailer for the film and a trailer for the DVD of Heartbreakers -- which seems like a very odd companion for this film.
I've seen this movie a hundred times! Why would I want to watch it yet again? He's in pain; she's in pain. How long before they find each other, are prevented from seeing each other, then get together again and live happily ever after?
Yes, the story is clichéd and not that original. However, strong direction, some beautiful cinematography, and excellent acting make this film something you should seriously consider viewing. This touching film can move you and maybe inspire you. A fresh perspective on characters adds a nice level to the film, so that when combined with the skilled acting, you can immerse yourself in the story. While probably not something you'd want to add to your collection, I highly recommend a rental. This is a skillful display of emotional storytelling.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailer
* Trailer for Heartbreakers DVD