Screenplay : Gerald Di Pego
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Jennifer Lopez (Sharon Pogue), Jim Caviezel (Catch), Sonia Braga (Mrs. Pogue), Terrence Dashon Howard (Robby), Shirley Knight (Elanora Davis), Jeremy Sisto (Larry), Victor Argo (Mr. Pogue)
Director Luis Mandoki and screenwriter Gerald Di Pego, who together adapted Nicholas Spark's short romantic novel Message in a Bottle to the screen in 1999, have taken the basic story--the fated relationship between a woman and a man who is mourning a great loss--and remade it as Angel Eyes. You can't immediately tell that it's the same story because they hide it beneath a false veneer of supernatural mystery that suggests much more than is ever realized. In many ways, the film is like a tease, always suggesting something much deeper, more profound, or at least surprising that what it ultimately reveals.
Jennifer Lopez stars as Sharon Pogue, a tough, but emotionally damaged female cop on the Chicago police force. The film opens with an evocative, hazy scene that finds her helping an unseen car-wreck victim who may or may not live. Fast-forward one year, and Sharon is saved from being killed during a particularly violent arrest by a mysterious man named Catch (Jim Caviezel). Sharon and Catch end up spending time together and getting to know each other.
Actually, scratch that: He gets to know her, but she gets to know absolutely nothing about him. In fact, until the last third of the film, she doesn't even know what his last name is. Di Pego's screenplay constructs Catch as a mysterious sort of phantom presence, a man who appears to have no job, no income, no friends, no interests, no talents, no car, no clothes other than a dark tee-shirt and a trenchcoat, and, apparently, no razor (he maintains a mysterious two-day scruff no matter when it is). When Sharon finally follows Catch one day to find out where he lives, she finds him in a large apartment with absolutely no furniture except a mattress and a phone.
The problem with this scenario is that it seriously puts into question Sharon's intelligence. I can accept a certain amount of romantic suspension of disbelief, but what woman in her right mind--especially one who is a police officer and is used to dealing with criminals and ex-cons--would throw herself into a relationship with a man about whom she knows absolutely nothing? This is not a case where he's hiding a secret--his whole life is a secret. Of course, there is one big secret that must be revealed at some point, and I doubt that anyone wouldn't guess right away that it's related to the car wreck at the beginning of the movie. In fact, the film is required to maintain a supernatural pretension in order to deflect your guessing exactly what that relation is because it's so obvious.
Interestingly enough, Angel Eyes features a subplot that is not only more realistic, but far more compelling that its central romantic enigma. This subplot deals with a cycle of domestic violence in Sharon's family and her bitter estrangement from her father. Di Pego does a fine job of slowly revealing the nature of this situation and threading it throughout the narrative, and the way he resolves it is nicely pitched, as it offers the hope of eventual reconciliation without condescending to the idea that a decade of emotional hurt can be healed in one evening. The larger purpose of this subplot is to give Sharon a wounded character to match Catch's wounded character--as in Message in a Bottle, the film is about two hurt people who are fated to find and heal each other-. But, this subplot is so well-done that, on its own, it overshadows the main plot.
The acting in the film is good throughout, although Jim Caviezel (Frequency, The Thin Red Line) underplays Catch to the point that he sometimes appears to be sleepwalking. Jennifer Lopez certainly holds her own in the sympathetic central role, and she is surprisingly convincing as the hard-as-nails cop who is constantly deflecting emotional engagement with other people. She plays the family scenes particularly well, especially in the scenes with her mother, played by Sonia Braga. These scenes are touching and truthful, and it makes one wish that Mandoki and Di Pego had dealt with the romance in a similar manner, rather than trying to play it up for something it is not.
©2001 James Kendrick