Fallen Review

by Jamie Peck (jpeck1 AT gl DOT umbc DOT edu)
March 16th, 1998

Reviewed by Jamie Peck
------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Rating: **˝ (out of ****)
Warner Bros. / 2:02 / 1998 / R (language, violence)
Cast: Denzel Washington; John Goodman; Embeth Davidtz; Donald Sutherland; James Gandolfini; Elias Koteas; Gabriel Casseus; Michael J. Pagan
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Screenplay: Nicholas Kazan
------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In last winter's "The Preacher's Wife," Denzel Washington played a friendly angel. In this winter's "Fallen," he plays a cop on the trail of a not-so-friendly angel. It's an interesting transition to an interesting film, but don't look too hard at "Fallen" or you'll find it has a hard time getting up. Injecting a basic thriller plot with some creepy religious themes, the movie is quite uneven and a little unsatisfying, yet still manages to somehow be a tad better than most of the cinematic releases anchored to January's dumping ground. Despite its flaws, "Fallen" covers some nifty ground and boasts a few choice moments before its twisted finale results in one too many head-scratches.
As the film opens, Philadelphia homicide detective John Hobbes (Washington) is attending the execution of Edgar Reese ("Crash"'s Elias Koteas), a serial killer whom he apprehended single-handed. What Hobbes doesn't know is that his adversary's murderous motivation has been supplied by the dark, fallen seraph that's inhabited his body, making Reese not your typical psychopath. This diabolical entity -- called Azazel -- is transferred through human hosts by touch, and targets Hobbes as an eventual victim. But Hobbes fights back with the help of a pretty theologian (Embeth Davidtz) who's actually related deeper to the case than she'd like to admit. Also on hand to cast interdepartmental doubt on Hobbes' seemingly out-there actions are his loyal partner (John Goodman) and suspicious lieutenant (Donald Sutherland).

It takes a good while for "Fallen" to get moving, but when it does, things become quite intriguing. The film, which plays like an occasionally spooky mesh of "Seven" and "The Exorcist," boasts an exciting gimmick -- how Azazel can be transferred into just about anyone -- that leads to a handful of exciting sequences where Washington must cast distrustful eyes on every person in his surroundings. Although "Fallen" might leave you with a detached feeling, it's hard to not be engrossed with the story's unfolding details. What keeps the movie from being solid entertainment, however, is that too much of it remains frustratingly ambiguous, like the interaction between Hobbes and his brother and nephew. And "Fallen"'s alleged "surprise ending" -- a denouement that Warner Bros. issued requests asking the press to not spoil -- should shock no one who has been watching attentively.

Washington is his usual sunny, likeable self, which contrasts nicely with the movie's cold, grim atmosphere. Other cast members are solid without being used terribly well; Davidtz ("Schindler's List"), for example, creates the beginnings of an interesting character, but later comes off like walking, talking exposition. Still, even if the good guys are an underdeveloped crew, the film does manage to make Azazel menacing without the use of a constant actor or even special effects aside from some periodic weird point-of-view shots. But "Fallen" is nonetheless an uneven film. Screenwriter Nicholas Kazan ("Reversal of Fortune") has traces of a true, terrifying tale in "Fallen" -- what could have possibly kept his script so lopsided? Could it be ... Satan?
------------------------------------------------------------------------------- © 1997 Jamie Peck
E-mail: [email protected]
Visit the Reel Deal Online: http://www.gl.umbc.edu/~jpeck1/ "Suggestions, please, for the fourth movie in the series. How about ‘Look Who's Talking Back,' in which the audience gets its turn?" -- Roger Ebert on "Look Who's Talking Now"

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