Running Time: 352 minutes
US Certificate: NR UK Certificate: 15
Country: United States
Do you believe in angels? You should, because every time someone says they dont, one of them dies. Or is that fairies Im thinking of? Either way, if youre a non-believer then youre not really entering into the spirit of Angels in America, Tony Kushners brain-boggling play brought to the screen here in six hour-long episodes by director Mike Nichols.
Its set in the politically-charged Reagan-administered mid-80s, and centres around the AIDS epidemic sweeping New Yorks gay community. One man to have found himself at the business end of this terrifying plague is Prior Walter (Justin Kirk). When his condition takes a turn for the worst and he has to be hospitalized, a relationship dating back four years isnt enough to stop boyfriend Louis (Ben Shenkman) from turning around and doing a runner straight into the arms, would you believe, of closet-dwelling Mormon Joe (Patrick Wilson). Prior, understandably, isnt best chuffed, and before he knows where he is hes taking it out on the large angel (Emma Thompson) who starts invading his room at night and yelling nasties at him. Ah, but is it just an exceptionally elaborate series of dreams, or is he really some sort of lank-haired prophet?
Priors far from the only one with problems. Joe, for example, has been spending his life fighting tooth and nail against his gayness, but when mad missus Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) finally topples over the loony ledge, he loses his grip on all things straight and embarks on a man-hunt. Then theres Joes boss, the infamous Commie-hating lawyer Roy Cohn (Al Pacino, sporting a Fabrizio Ravanelli silver fox hairdo). Despite his best efforts to keep it concealed, hes partial to a bit of the old man-love himself, and now he too is suffering from what Chris Morris calls Bad Aids. Honestly, youd think it was homosexuality itself that was catching, so all-encompassing does this make it seem. Throw Meryl Streep into the mix as Joes long-suffering mum, and youve got yourself one Helluva miserable bunch.
This multiple award-snatching epic wanders through more of modern lifes big issues than I could hope to list, and with its mammoth running time it has plenty of room to do so. As a result, its also massively self-indulgent, and I couldnt help but think that, cut down to form a one-piece movie rather than something needing to be divided up into a televised mini-series, it might have been a more refined and to-the-point piece of work.
Thankfully, writer Kushner injects a fair amount of humour, which keeps things palatable and prevents the entire project from turning into one big chore (theres a great bit where Thompsons imposing angel character demands Prior dig up his kitchen tiles, but he refuses because hell lose his deposit on the flat). It also features inch-perfect performances from all involved (many of the cast play multiple roles), and extremely ambitious direction from Nichols (sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesnt).
In the end, though, I was left unsatisfied. I wouldnt go as far as to say that the conclusion renders the whole thing pointless, but it certainly doesnt seem to match up to the weight and power of whats gone before it. Damp squib might be the best way of putting it but a striking one, all the same.
It's Got: Pill-popping, strolls in the park, a visit from a ghostly Michael Gambon, and a man telling an angel to shoo.
It Needs: To have spent some of its clearly substantial budget on a more authentic-looking pair of angels wings. Seriously, they dont even flap when she moves up and down!
DVD Extras Two discs, no extras. DVD Extras Rating: 0/10
Alternatives:City of Angels
A bit like those angels wings, its sporadically up-lifting in a way that doesnt quite make sense but more often than that its a maudlin chore with too scant a reward.