Director Norman Jewison is one of the best directors working in films today. He has created a very highly regarded career in Hollywood that has now spanned almost 50 years. Yet, as with any film, there is a point where what a director can do ends and what a writer should have provided begins. For "Agnes of God", Jewison has provided solid direction to three excellent actresses (Tilly and Bancroft were both Oscar nomainated), but is working with a screenplay that never quite decides what it wants to be nor does it really explore all the issues it raises. The controversial film was adapted by John Pielmeier from his own play and stars Anne Bancroft, Meg Tilly and Jane Fonda.
Fonda plays Dr. Martha Livingstone, a psychologist who visits a local convent to investigate a baby who was murdered, possibly by her mother, Agnes (Meg Tilly). The details about the baby, who was possibly a virgin birth, are kept under wraps by Mother Superior (Anne Bancroft), who seeks to protect the young nun. Is Agnes just a little South of normal, or is she really telling the truth?
The film presents interesting concepts, such as Faith, Miracles and Innocence in Modern Society and never really explores them. With the 98 minute running time, the idea of exploring bigger themes stays in the background, while a familiar mystery with new surroundings takes center stage. What interest I did find in this drama/thriller was from the performances, which were quite good, despite not really having fully-realized characters to play from. It's an actresses' showcase, but I didn't think it was that much else.
VIDEO: Columbia/Tristar presents "Agnes of God" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film, according to the back cover, has been "remastered in high definition", which makes me wish that all studios would provide more specific details about the transfer, similar to what Criterion provides. Anyways, Columbia/Tristar has presented ace cinematographer and former Woody Allen collaborator Sven Nykvist's cinematography reasonably well here. Sharpness and detail are never terrific, nor completely lackluster, with the exception of a few dimly-lit scenes that appear too murky. Mostly, the picture simply has a level of crispness that stays just a few levels above softness.
The print appears pretty clean, which is certainly a positive. There are a few minor specks here and there, but the film seemed largely free of specks and marks. Minimal grain is on display throughout much of the picture, but only occasionally becomes more apparent. Edge enhancement never really becomes an issue and pixelation wasn't spotted.
The picture boasts a rather flat, subdued color palette, but colors looked accurate here, with no problems. A fine, but not really exceptional looking presentation.
SOUND: The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack certainly doesn't provide anything more than the bare basics, which is what is expected, given the material. A film mainly dialogue-based with touches of music, both elements remain clear and easily understood. Nothing in the way of bass and little in the way of ambience are provided.
MENUS: Basic, non-animated menus with film-themed images as backgrounds; an agressive animated menu wouldn't have been appropriate though, I guess.
EXTRAS: "Soldier's Story" and "China Syndrome" trailers.
Final Thoughts: "Agnes of God" is worthwhile rental viewing for the performances, which are passionate and involving. Columbia/Tristar's DVD is a bare-basics release; it provides moderately good audio and video, but little in the way of supplements. Given that Jewison has provided excellent commentaries in the past, I'd have liked to have heard his thoughts on this film.