[Screen It]

(2002) (Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi) (R)

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Drama: An Italian cop helps a terrorist escape from custody after her bombing killed innocent people rather than her intended drug dealer victim.
Philippa Paccard (CATE BLANCHETT) is an English school teacher in Italy. Fed up with the local police not heeding her calls about a local businessman, Vendice (STEFANO SANTOSPAGO), actually being a drug dealer who's responsible for her husband's death, she's decided to take matters into her own hands.

Unfortunately, the bomb she planted to kill him instead takes the lives of four innocent people and she's arrested for the crime. When she decides to testify in her native English rather than Italian, young police officer Filippo (GIOVANNI RIBISI), a cop's son, offers to translate.

As the likes of Major Pini (MATTIA SBRAGIA), The Inspector (GIOVANNI VETTORAZZO) and the Public Prosecutor (ALBERTO DI STASIO) believe she's the member of a terrorist group and interrogate her about who she works for, Filippo begins to fall for and empathize with Philippa. Accordingly, he then plots to free her. Once he does, the two go on the run and look for help from Filippo's Father (REMO GIRONE) and Philippa's old friend, Regina (STEFANIA ROCCA), as the police pursue the unlikely pair.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
No matter the law of the land or penalties imposed on convicted criminals, vigilantism will always be present. It's apparently human nature to want to get even or induce punishment when it's believed that justice has not been served in the correct way or amount.

Since vigilantes and their vindictive or terrorist acts are so volatile, they obviously make for "good" movie subjects. Whether it's Harry Callahan in "Dirty Harry" or Paul Kersey in "Death Wish," such characters have fascinated us over the decades in both disturbing and even vicarious fashions. Feeling that they're victimized by the system, they break the law to enforce it, at least in their own minds.

The latest such character is Philippa, a widow who decides to take vindictive matters into her own hands in "Heaven." An intriguing yet flawed look at the subject matter as well as unconditional love and empathy at first sight, the film comes from director Tom Tykwer who makes his first English language film (although parts of it are still in Italian).

More like his last film, "The Princess and The Warrior" rather than "Run, Lola, Run," the effort - written by European filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski ("Le Double Vie de Veronique," "Trois Couleurs") and screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz (those same films) similarly looks at unlikely characters who are drawn together by extraordinary circumstances.

After the opening scene -- that unwisely gives away the ending - and then a taut and superbly crafted home-grown terrorist bombing sequence, the film settles down into the story of an Italian police translator -- played by Giovanni Ribisi ("The Gift," "Gone in 60 Seconds") -- having a serious case of what seems like puppy love in terms of how he sees and reacts to the vigilante played by Cate Blanchett ("Bandits," "Charlotte Gray").

While one can see him being physically attracted to her and perhaps even believing in what she did, he's a cop (and a cop's son) and she's a terrorist who just killed four innocent people including two kids. Accordingly, there had better be a concrete reason for the path he then chooses - of establishing forbidden contact and then planning and successfully springing her from custody - lest anything seem too farfetched.

Unfortunately, Tykwer doesn't manage to deliver that and thus the film suffers from such motivational problems. Although there are some hints about the reasons behind his actions, they're not substantial or credible enough to make the developments come off as more than necessary plot developments (meaning if he doesn't spring her, the film has nowhere to go or becomes an entirely different sort of picture).

Other developments are a bit unbelievable as well, including but not limited to how he gets her out and that the officials purposefully and accidentally allow it to happen. Had the film been something of a fable that would have been one thing, but as it stands, all of those question marks unnecessarily distract the viewer from the proceedings. It's too bad since a few simple script tweaks could have fixed most of those problems and faults.

Like the filmmaker's other pictures, this one looks terrific from a visual sense, as the composition of the various shots is always topnotch. The filmmaker also gets good performances from his cast, notwithstanding the motivational and credibility problems.

Blanchett is completely believable as the widow driven to violent reaction, and one feels the sorrow she feels for taking the lives of the innocent even when she's back after her initial target, a drug dealer she claims is responsible for her husband's death.

Ribisi mostly underplays the infatuation part of his character and expresses a great deal of his character's emotional state through those sad eyes of his. Even so, I would have liked for the film to delve more deeply into his character and related mindset and motivation. Beyond those two, a few supporting characters are present - played by the likes of Stefano Santospago (making his film debut), Mattia Sbragia ("The Golden Bowl," "The Year of the Gun") and Remo Girone ("Il Gabbiano," "Marquise") - but this is essentially just a two-person show.

Compelling, but not without its share of flaws that unfortunately undermine the effort, "Heaven" has some good as well as disturbing moments, but isn't the cinematic nirvana that the title otherwise suggests. It rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 30, 2002 / Posted October 18, 2002

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