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film & tv reviews

Angels in America

Story: Tony Kushner
Director: Mike Nichols
Music: Thomas Newman
Starring: Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Mary Louise Parker, Emma Thompson, Jeffrey Wright, Justin Kirk, Patrick Wilson

Superdrewby October 2004

Mike Nichol’s sumptuous film adaptation of Mike Nichols’ play Angels in America is an amazing visual, musical and intellectual experience that deserves everyone of the 11 Emmy and 4 Globe Awards it won in 2004.

The screen adaptation took many years to come to the screen due to Kushner’s complex and deep subject matter mixing real and fictional characters into the Reagan era American homophobic society living under the specter of the AIDS crisis.





The story weaves the life of the real Roy Kohn portrayed by Al Pacino, a communist hating, self loathing closeted homosexual lawyer whose greatest achievement is ensuring Ethel Rosenberg was put to death for treason in the great Hoover Red under the bed scandal of the 50’s. With the fictional characters of Prior Walter a 30 something AIDS sufferer, his ex boyfriend Louis who starts an affair with the deeply conservative Lawyer Joe Pitt, Roy Kohn’s protégé, Joe Pitt’s looney valium addicted wife and his Mormon straight laced mother portrayed superbly by Meryl Streep whose life takes on a new meaning through the five years between 1985 and 1990 portrayed in this film.

Angels in America links some of the great contradictions of American society, the Mormon Religion, homophobia, anti communism and the AIDS Crisis and subsequent mishandling of the crisis by the 1980’s Reagan administration.

The first chapter sets the scene, focusing on Prior Walter a 30 something AIDS afflicted sufferer whose partner the Jewish Angst ridden Louis leaves him as Prior becomes symptomatic. Louis subsequently commences an affair with the recently out married Joe Pitt a conservative Mormon Lawyer who is described by Prior as a corn fed country boy.

Pitt’s character is probably one of the most interesting and complex of all the main characters as he is the protégé of the evil Roy Kohn and is a complex myriad of religious fervor, right wing sentiment still coming to terms with his newly expressed sexuality.

Joe’s valium addicted wife Harper Pitt (Mary Louise Parker) has dazzlingly retreated to a fantasy world where she conjures up a slick travel agent taking her on amazing journey’s in time, around the world as she deals with her husband’s sexuality and her unknown future.

In one of the funniest lines of the move Meryl Streep who plays multiple roles in the film including Pitt’s Mormon mother says of her daughter in law “No no, No Hospital, she’s not insane, she’s just peculiar” after Harper is arrested in Central Park chewing on a pine tree in a delusional state imagining she was in the Antarctic.

The characters of Harper and Prior Walter have a strange parallel descent into delusional madness and are themselves linked by Joe’s affair with Prior’s ex-boyfriend Louis.

Prior’s delusional stats brought on by abandonment coupled with raging fevers, manifest themselves in the appearance of an Angel played by Emma Thompson who gloriously informs him that he is a prophet come to save the world and return God to Heaven.

“Greetings Prophet the great work begins, the messenger has arrived” “Oh God no no no there’s a thing in the sky”.

Thompson’s Angel visiting Prior as he sleeps is majestic and send tingles all the way down your spine. But whilst the visitation is both humorous it is also poignant and extremely funny. Prior has no desire for the responsibility of being a prophet and is more concerned about the throbbing erection he gets every time she appears. His

The mystical aspect of the visitation is juxtaposed with Prior’s “no fucking way, the ceiling’s bad enough I’ll lose the lease” as he focuses on practicality while the Angel sends bolts of lightening down to uncover the great book and not on the excitement of seeing an Angel which is hilarious.

The sex scene between Prior and the Angel (who has eight yes count them eight vaginas) is quite something too!

Angels is premised on the notion that God left Heaven (which looks a lot like San Francisco) on the day of the great earth quake of 1906.

Before leaving, the Angels lived an idyllic life copulating focusing only on their pleasure. But now God has become enamored with his imperfect creation, Humans who in the Angels view will destroy Heaven. The Angel has come down to present Prior as the Prophet who will restore order by stopping Human’s movement across the world.

There are simply too many individual scenes that excite the viewer to mention but a few notable ones are Meryl Streep portraying a Rabbi at the very beginning of the Film. The first time I saw this scene I had no idea that this was in fact Meryl Streep so convincingly did she play this role that I was totally taken in.

Angels in America is just as much a historical piece as it is the intertwined story of both fictional and real characters. At six hours long broken up into 6 one hour chapters its is a feast for all the senses with a thrilling musical score by Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo, The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty).

It really should be watched all in one sitting so the complete sense of the movie can be experienced.

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