HEAVEN. 1998

Director: Scott Reynolds

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The editing style of Heaven is massively confusing since it is impossible to tell if a scene is a flashback or a flashforward & the timeline of the tale is a total mess. By the end, when all the little pieces are revealed, it does all make sense & becomes wonderfully clever on reflection. But as it goes along, it has a needlessly confusing quality easily mistaken for amateurish. I rather wish a different artistic choice had been made, but I'd nevertheless tell anyone to trust the film; if it seems to have derailed in visual logic & continuity from time to time, trust that it'll make sense in time.

That was the only fault in this magic realist thriller with a magnificent cast & characters of great eccentricities though never quite unreal. There's a streak of decency & humanity that reminded me of the ninkyo or chivalry subgenre of Japanese gangster films which comingled violence & criminality with heroic character.

Despite the gambling, boozing, unfaithfulness, prostitution, rape, & psycho slaughter, there's a warmth passing through the story. For instance, the pimp club owner Stanner (Richard Schiff) who runs the exotic dance bar is definitely a bad guy, so when he gets his hands on our hero's son, it looks like Standard Dumbass Thriller Technique Number One: Threaten A Child. But the bad guy leaves a message revealing that the kid had run away from his mom, so he took the kid to his grandmother's place because, as Stanner explains it, he's an asshole but he's not that sort of asshole.

The central figure of the tale is the streetwise & transgendered fragile-acting Heaven (Danny Edwards), who has periodic crippling migraines during which she sees future events. She often sees the outcomes of her pimp's card games, so he keeps her around as a good luck charm to let him know when he's bound to win so he can bet large on those nights only.

Stanner was the first person ever to believe her visions were real rather than evidence of her being crazy, & he got her off the streets, moving "up" in the world as an exotic dancer instead of a streetwalker, so she feels beholden to him even though he's become increasingly sadistic over time.

In one of her visions she has seen herself brutally raped & likely to be killed except that one of her pimp's gambling buddies (Martin Donovan as Robert) saves her. From that moment on she shifts her aliance from the pimp to Robert, who she wants to reward for saving her, though he hasn't clue what her motivation is since it hasn't happened yet. She becomes something of "femme fatale with a heart of gold" since knowing the future gives her certain advantages over people.

Robert's wife Jennifer (Joanna Going) is divorcing him due to his gambling problems. She's long been having an affair with the Dr. Melrose (Patrick Malahide) with whom she & her husband previously did marriage counselling. She doesn't know the doctor frequently molests & even rapes his patients & is an evil s.o.b. She takes all his advice which results in a divorce campaign & custody battle that is pure hell for Robert. Ah, but Heaven is also one of Dr. Melrose's molested clients, & we must never forget Heaven knows the future & protects Robert.

The plot is arch & clever but the strength is in the array of wild characters, the evil Dr. Melrose who like most bullies is a coward in the end; the two psychos who want to steal Stanner's huge cache of money as well as his goodluck charm Heaven, & are willing to kill everyone who gets in their way. Sweeper (Karl Urban) the kung fu bouncer who looks like an excuse to believe in Hitler's perfect aryans but who has been secretly in love with Heaven since they were kids in the neighborhood. And Robert the father & architect, a regular joe except for the gambling which brings him into association with criminal & eccentric folks who he embraces as friends & companions he actually cares about in an unpresuming un-selfconscious sort of way.

This film project could well have been pitched to producers as "Think Momento (2000) crossed with The Crying Game (1992)" though Heaven predates Momento & apt to have been an influence but not influenced by. It is in the final analysis a superb film. I do wish the script hadn't made the Momento-like weirdly edited storyline as confusing as possible for as long as possible, but on the strength of these wondrously strange characters, if not the eventually surprising story, the film is complexly first-rate. It's the rare thriller, supernatural or otherwise, that manages to retain such a touching streak of humanity or is this intensely thought provoking.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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