I knew nothing about Angel Eyes when I went to a preview screening except that it starred Jennifer Lopez as a police officer and Jim Caviezel as a mysterious stranger who comes into her life. I was expecting the typical fare of a deranged looney stalking a female officer. While director Luis Mandoki likes to hint at that possibility, it’s hardly what this film is about.
I was relieved, but some people will want more pay-off than Mandoki’s character-driven love story delivers. Despite any ominous undertones, Angel Eyes actually follows the time-honored formula of two very different people brought together by fate, their wounds healed by love.
Caviezel, who has perfected the role of dead-man-walking, enters the film like a ghostly specter. He’s a man without a past, an address or a name. He wanders dissolutely through the streets of Chicago in a long trench coat, sporting a bad haircut and a five o’clock shadow. He’s like some shell-shocked refugee from City of Angels, lost in his own private grief. Mandoki fills Caviezel’s scenes with such foreboding that everything he does seems to have sinister potential—the way he stares at a little boy, keeps children’s toys stashed in his drawers and lurks in trash-strewn alleys.
We’re supposed to think there’s menace inside that trench coat. Or is it that we’ve been barraged with such a steady diet of sinister plots and dark deeds—especially when it comes to the cop genre—that we expect the perverse? Maybe Mandoki is simply tweaking our expectations in Angel Eyes, throwing them back at us. He’s setting us up to expect the worst.
Sharon, Lopez’s policewoman, is trained to find the dark side of people, but she’s not intimidated. Instead, she’s intrigued by the man who calls himself Catch and looks like a street person. Caviezel plays the same kind of unkempt homeless guy that he portrayed in Pay it Forward. He apparently has no intentions of breaking out of that role. Of course, it’s no mystery to the audience who Catch is. He’s the man Sharon saved in the film’s opening, when she was called to the scene of a head-on collision. He’s the survivor of the crash whom Sharon coaxed into holding on to life. Her words, “Look at my eyes, hold my hand,” gave him the will to stay alive.
A year later, she’s all but forgotten that accident scene. But because the passage of time is nothing more than a quick edit to us, we know that this mysterious stranger who appears out of nowhere and saves her from a gunman’s bullet is none other than the crash survivor. It’s just one of several predictable turns.
Caviezel gives a one-note performance, which is pretty much what the role of shell-shocked survivor requires. His character is in a daze of denial and despair, so Caviezel’s despondent responses are appropriately empty. We get brief glimpses of accident flashback to remind us that he’s damaged goods. The mystery becomes what kind of man is he? What was his past and how long will it take Sharon to figure out that he’s the man she saved that rainy night?
Lopez is a natural actress and her leading role in Angel Eyes reaffirms her talent. Lopez has definitely done some living, which comes through in her assured performance marked by intelligence and undeniable moxie. She is well-cast as the tough, no-nonsense cop who can take care of herself and anyone else. Her character offers to walk men to their cars in bad neighborhoods. She’s the kind of woman who can stand up to the toughest men without overblown heroics. Yet, Lopez gives her the necessary vulnerability to make the character real. She lets us see that Sharon is unhinged by the attempt on her life, even though she tries to hide her feelings, especially from the men on the force. After she’s almost killed in the alley, she swigs her beer and exchanges macho banter with the boys. She doesn’t break down until she’s alone in the bathroom. Lopez gives this woman heart, showing both her impressive strength and her overwhelming loneliness.
Mandoki veers from the central plot with a subplot about the abusive family that shaped his heroine, but it’s appropriate background that helps flesh out Lopez’s character. Mandoki is best, however, at the build-up, teasing us and making us wait for something just around every corner. What’s around the corner is hardly a thriller, but a human drama about damaged people, slowly letting go and learning to trust and to love again. And that makes for a much better film than audiences have come to expect when a female policeman and a strange man are involved.
Angel Eyes (R) HH1/2 Directed by Luis Mandoki. Starring Jennifer Lopez, Jim Caviezel.