Cinema Signal:

Vigilant Citizens: Vigilantism and the State

. "Heaven"

Tom Tykwer has not become a household name as a result of directing the 1998 film stylization of that year, "Run Lola Run". And, one might have wondered then where his taste for the unique and, perhaps, tricky concepts might take him. After a followup with his delicious star, Franka Potente, "The Princess and the Warrior" in 2000, he now demonstrates how such flair for the unique can be used in a straight, character driven drama.

The story, from a script by Krzysztof Kieslowski ("Red", "White", "Blue") written originally in Polish in 1996, plays with an always vital question: how do we feel toward a person who commits a bad act in a good cause? Do we praise or condemn a person for murdering an evil man who is protected by the law?

It is no small part of the sympathetic answer to those questions that the perp, here, Philippa Paccard, a British schoolteacher living in Turin, Italy, is played by the stunning Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth") in a new corner of her expansive range of possibilities. She puts us in a sympathetic mode even while she plants her bomb with the intention of avenging her dead husband who died at the hands of a very well protected drug dealer. We remain sympathetic even as she tries to convince her interrogators that, while she is, indeed, guilty of planting the bomb, she is not part of a terrorist cell. Despite her honest confession, it's a hard sell to the hardnoses. But, there's a softy in the room.

It's no accident, either, that this is set in Italy, where police corruption comes with the pasta, where it's believable that the worst kind of criminals can operate under an umbrella of certain protection by a complicit department of police. And, again, it's no accident that Giovanni Ribisi, an American actor who is perfectly at home with the language and the culture in which he's the out-of-the-loop police officer Filippo, brought in to guard and then to interpret the notorious Englishwoman for the interrogation.

She knows how deserving of death is her intended target, how vile and dangerous he is, and how capable of escaping any consequences for his crimes. What she doesn't know is that her bomb was inadvertently moved and wound up killing four innocents. She also doesn't know that Filippo is flipping for her, and will soon be offering his extraordinary escape plans for her. Rather, for the both of them, for he's about to give up any idea for a career as an Italian police officer. This is all the more regretful since he's there because of the illustrious career of his father (Remo Girone).

The only resemblance this bears to "Run Lola Run" is the aspect of the chase, but there it fades to something entirely different. In a step-by-step escape scenario, against heavy odds, he puts two intriguing characters playing out their options according to the terms of their situation and the moral determination that motivates the action. It nicely balances questions of justice and culpability, vigilatism and corruption, and is ultimately a satisfying 93 minute run through Italian institutions and countrysides.

This, despite some criticism in the entertainment press that I found aggravatingly inappropriate. One reviewer, in some sort of pique about Tom Tykwer's success and subsequent promise, questions his gifts by referring to his taste for action and movement, saying that "if he stayed in one place for long, he would soon be stranded in the shallows of his imagination." This is neither valid nor a demonstration of much movie making understanding. Rather, it comes off as a blatant display of attitudinal envy having no relevance to "Heaven".

When this reviewer adds that the picture "doesn't have the courage of its conceit, only an abundance of bad ideas and worse taste" one has to wonder what movie they saw. It wasn't the "Heaven" that I did, which I thought engaging, tasteful and daring.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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