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
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.
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.
The mono audio is nothing special. Some scenes are tough to hear, with characters produced at
different volume levels.
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.
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 email@example.com