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Heaven (November 12/02)

The structure of Heaven, a film so non-linear it makes Memento look like a Garry Marshall movie, may turn off some viewers due to the almost ridiculously complicated nature of its storytelling. But those who stick with it will be rewarded with one of the more interesting and visually striking movies to come around in a while.

Martin Donovan stars as Robert, an architect with a gambling problem whose wife (Joanna Going) has recently left him and is threatening to request sole custody of their son. Robert's only project at the moment is designing a nudie joint for a sleazy club owner named Stanner (Richard Schiff), who has in his employ a stripper named Heaven (Danny Edwards). Heaven's got a unique talent; she receives visions that allow her a glimpse into the future - visions that are never wrong.

Heaven's been written and directed by Scott Reynolds, a young filmmaker who's only made two other films - The Ugly and When Strangers Appear. As he demonstrated with those movies, Reynolds' modus operandi involves taking familiar plotlines and themes and subsequently throwing them into a highly stylized and often structurally challenging environment. Once you take out the inclusion of Heaven herself, a psychic with 100% success, the storyline - featuring gangsters and down-on-their-luck losers - doesn't exactly hold a lot of originality. But it's the way Reynolds tells the story, using flashbacks within flashbacks, that makes the movie consistently entertaining. It also requires the viewer to remain alert, which likely turned off a good portion of audience (and indeed, is probably the reason why it premiered on home video rather than in theaters, where it should have debuted).

Heaven is headlined by an impressive lead performance by Donovan, an actor who's essentially the male Parker Posey. He's got the talent to make it big in Hollywood, but he consistently eschews mainstream films in favor of smaller indie flicks (he did recently appear as Al Pacino's doomed partner in Insomnia, though, so perhaps he's finally making his way to the other side). The character he's playing, Robert, is one of those noir archetypes who invariably winds up being pursued by a variety of nefarious sorts, and Donovan's blank expression and common appearance are perfectly suited for this role. Likewise, Schiff (who can currently be seen as a straight-laced advisor on The West Wing) seems to be having a great time playing this questionable character, while Going is effective as the woman caught in the middle of everything. But it's Edwards, as the titular Heaven, that anchors the film. He doesn't exactly make an attractive woman and we never do find out how this guy continues to make his living as a stripper (nor do we learn the reasoning behind this character's transvestitism), but Edwards gives a suitably enigmatic performance - which is certainly called for, as Heaven is about as mysterious a character as they tend to come.

While Heaven doesn't always work and contains a storyline that's a tad familiar, the execution of the film is anything but routine. Reynolds deserves kudos for challenging the viewer and requiring them to think, especially in this age of safe, cookie-cutter formula pictures.

out of

© David Nusair