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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Desolation Angels
Desolation Angels
Wellspring // Unrated // June 12, 2001
List Price: $9.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted November 27, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Rape is a tough subject for film, especially given the personal type of violence involved and the emotional repercussions. Most films approaching the subject, from Kurosawa's Rashoman to The Accused to the recent Body Shots seek to examine the aftermath. Add to this list Tim McCann's 1995 film Desolation Angels. While it falters often as a film, it does hint at the complexity and touchiness of the subject matter.

Set in what seems to be a mish-mash of Brooklyn and Queens, New York, Desolation Angels stars Michael Rodrick as Nick, a blue collar mook who moves back to the neighborhood to find his girlfriend Mary (Jennifer Thomas) still reeling from their friend Sid (Peter Bassett) making a pass at her. Over time Nick starts to suspect that more than a pass may have been made and when Mary confesses that she was forced into having sex Nick just about goes nuts with undirected rage. He doesn't fully know who he should direct his anger at. He decides to hire some guys from the Bronx to rough Sid, a spoiled, greasy wannabe-actor, up. But, fuggehdaboutit. The plan goes wrong in typical outer-borough fashion. Eventually the tension reaches the boiling point both between Nick and Mary and Nick and Sid.

The notion that rape affects a wider circle of people than just the physical victim is worth exploring. Plus, the film never fully clarifies what happened; Mary seems just as reluctant to talk about things as Sid is to fess up. What holds the film back from really exploring the emotional depths are the performances. Most of the cast is sincere and looks authentic but they just don't get at the layers that McCann seems to be striving for. They are driven by anger, but also by plot developments of previous films (I was reminded of Nick Gomez's outstanding Laws of Gravity a few times, the only indie film to ever live up to the wake of Mean Streets).

The production values are bare and the cinematography pretty bleak (I would assume that the involvement of Johnathan Demme and Barbet Schroeder, who "present" the film on the box, came after principal photography.) The harsh lighting actually adds a layer of artificiality to the film, rather than make it seem grittier. Maybe it's the frequent use of color gels on the lights.

Desolation Angels seems to have collected a nice packet of positive reviews, from Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as awards from the prestigious Toronto and Telluride film festivals. Still, I couldn't help eying the film's ugly look and self-conscious acting. It plays like Ed Burns doing Shakespeare, an attempt at revealing life's ugly truths by a guy who hasn't learned them yet.

VIDEO:
The full-frame video is pretty rough. There is a good deal of dirt and the picture lacks contrast. There's no question that this is a low-budget film but the picture is especially lackluster.

AUDIO:
The mono audio is nothing special. Some scenes are tough to hear, with characters produced at different volume levels.

EXTRAS:
The film includes a "director statement" (actually a couple of behind the scenes segments), deleted scenes, a trailer and production notes. The behind the scenes clips are short but are pretty good. interviews with the director, star, and producer are intercut with on-set footage and scenes from the film. These guys are not dumb and were clearly trying to infuse their film with real, complex emotions, they just weren't always successful. The deleted scenes are interesting, consisting of one producer cameo as a creep hitting on Mary and one with a woman screaming about a missing child.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Desolation Angels is a flawed film. It opens up the proverbial can of worms without the means to fully explore the squirmy depths found within. Still, fans of independent film that takes itself seriously (too seriously, some may say) may find something interesting in the struggle the desperate characters go through. Most viewers, however, will be baffled by some of the acting and dialog. There is a grimness to the film, but it doesn't totally convince.

E-mail Gil at buskerdog@yahoo.com
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