ANGELS & DEMONS
ANGELS & DEMONS (L, PG-13):
Director Ron Howard’s Angels
& Demons reworks Dan Brown’s
2000 novel rather well, turning it into
a post-doctrinal, post-The Da Vinci Code (2006) action flick that barely mentions
Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a
famed Harvard symbologist, is asked
by the Vatican to help figure out the
meaning of an ominous sign bearing
the word Illuminati. This sign is linked
to the kidnapping of four popular
cardinals who are about to begin
the conclave to elect a new pope.
Langdon is wary of the Vatican’s
interest, given the events recounted
in The Da Vinci Code, but
he agrees. By the time Langdon
arrives in Rome, a canister with a
highly combustible particle of
“anti matter” stolen from a laboratory
in Switzerland is placed
somewhere in the Vatican.
Langdon, with a beautiful scientist
named Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet
Zurer, Munich), and a mixed cadre
of papal guards (Roman carabinieri) and
Vatican police, headed by Commander
Richter (Stellan Skarsgård, Mamma
Mia!), have until midnight to save the
four missing cardinals before the detonation
of the particle of antimatter.
Langdon figures out signs and lectures
about the meaning of the Illuminati
as the rescue mission crisscrosses
Rome at breakneck speed.
The plot turns on the outdated premise
that faith and science are opposed
but that the Church seems too interested
in science. The characters to watch
are the deceased pope’s angelic camerlengo,
Father Patrick McKenna (Ewan
McGregor, Miss Potter) and the ambitious
Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl, Shine), a kind of devil’s advocate.
But things are not as they seem.
The Illuminati, as presented in the
film, is, in reality, a fictitious organization.
A group, however, did exist in Germany
in the 1700s for about a decade.
Angels & Demons is about faith versus
science, the material versus the spiritual,
matter versus antimatter, belief in God
versus unbelief. The film is predicated
on what will happen when these seemingly
opposing ideas or realities collide.
The finale of this action-packed,
intensely violent film is a gentle, humble,
This film is not going to win an Academy
Award unless it is for art direction:
The replication of artworks and
churches is most impressive.
Howard and screenwriters Akiva
Goldsman (The Da Vinci Code) and
David Koepp (Ghost Town) have honed
their skills since The Da Vinci Code.
They stay away from doctrine per se
and give us heroes that the previous
film lacked. The acting is satisfactory,
though Mueller-Stahl as Cardinal
Strauss is a credible churchman.
This film is a conventional action
thriller that may entertain if this is
your preferred genre. It is helpful to
recall that it’s a work of fiction. Intense
action and violence, peril.
THE STONING OF SORAYA M.
THE STONING OF SORAYA M. (L, R): Freidoune Sahebjam (Jim Caviezel, The
Passion of the Christ), an Iranian journalist
living and working in France in
1987, is working undercover in
Iran. As Freidoune drives toward
the border, his car breaks down in
a small village. The mechanic,
Hashem (Parviz Sayyad), is too
tired to repair Sahebjam’s car, but
an older woman, Zahra (Shohreh
Aghdashloo, House of Sand and
Fog), shames him into it.
While the journalist sips tea
and reviews his notes, Zahra beckons
him to her home where she
tells him a tale of terrible events
that have just taken place in the
village. He records her story.
The village mullah (Ali Pourtash)
and Mayor Ebrahim (David Diaan) had
asked Zahra’s niece, Soraya (Mozhan
Marnò, Charlie Wilson’s War), to assist
Hashem and his handicapped son with
housework and cooking when the
man’s wife dies. Soraya’s husband, Ali
(Navid Negahban, Charlie Wilson’s War),
encouraged her and she agreed to do so.
Ali falls in love with a teenage girl
and starts a rumor that Soraya and
Hashem are involved as a pretext to
rid himself of a wife, even a divorced
wife that he would have to support.
Quickly, the village gossips take up the
refrain. The people become a mob and
decide to carry out the unthinkable.
The Stoning of Soraya M. is based on
the true story recounted by Sahebjam in
a 1990 book of the same title. When I
screened the film, I was impressed that
there was not one positive male character,
so I read the book. Sadly, the film is, indeed, very close to the original story.
The men are cruel or weak or both.
I interviewed producer Stephen
McEveety (The Passion of the Christ),
Shohreh Aghdashloo and Jim Caviezel
about their involvement in the film. All
said they decided to be part of this film
because it is about human rights.
I told McEveety that Soraya’s story
reminded me of the passion and death
of Christ—not the movie but the reality.
McEveety said there is a parallel because
“the passion of Christ continues today
in the suffering of people in the world,
as does grace that can change people.”
Jim Caviezel said that “the story
really touched me. I saw it as a Good
Samaritan story where I asked myself,
‘What can I do about this kind of injustice
in today’s world?’”
Shohreh Aghdashloo said that she
has been waiting 20 years for a film like
this to be made, ever since she saw a film
of a real stoning that made her physically
ill. She has a message for people of faith
who see this film: “We see human
beings; we can serve the God in them,”
she said. “Take your kindness to the
people of God. Treat them the same way
you will treat your God.”
Stoning is illegal but not banned in
Iran. It is still carried out in five countries.
In this film, the village elders follow
the law of shariah (Islamic religious
This is a tragic film about mob rule
and destructive gossip, with almost no
transcendent or theological understanding
of God. The male-dominated rural
Iranian culture still makes its own rules.
The acting, especially by Aghdashloo
and Marnò, is deeply felt. Caviezel
speaks his lines in Persian. Graphic stoning
THE HURT LOCKER (not yet rated, R): In
2004 journalist Mark Boal wrote an
article entitled “Death and Dishonor,”
which formed the basis of Paul Haggis’s
In the Valley of Elah, the SIGNIS and
Catholics in Media award-winning film
about the consequences of the U.S. war
in Iraq. Now, director Kathryn Bigelow
and writer Boal, who worked as an
embedded journalist in Iraq, have
teamed together to tell another side of
the story in The Hurt Locker.
An elite group of U.S. soldiers
(Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian
Geraghty and Justin Campbell, with
cameos by Ralph Fiennes, Guy Pearce
and David Morse) head out into the
streets of Baghdad and beyond to
defuse roadside bombs. They engage
in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD),
unexploded ordnance (UXO) and
improvised explosive device disposal
(IEDD). Some are heroic, others are
The Hurt Locker draws the audience in
as if we are embedded with this unit.
We can almost feel the heat, sand and
discomfort. It is not about the war; it is the war. We feel the fear and heroism.
We sense the danger. It is “reality fiction,”
not unlike the film Capote.
This is not comfortable viewing, but
it leads to empathy and understanding.
Jeremy Renner’s performance as the
unit’s leader is outstanding. Intense battle
conflict, war violence, peril.
IN TREATMENT (HBO, check
local listings): Dr. Jennifer
Melfi (Lorraine Bracco, The
Sopranos) lets us look at a patient from
the analyst’s perspective. We watch
both in fascinating exchanges between
the frail and the vulnerable.
Gabriel Byrne is Dr. Paul Weston, a
psychotherapist who listens, cares and
is in need of his own analyst. Each 25-minute segment concerns Paul’s interaction
with one patient, his own doctor
(Dianne Wiest) or his lawyer.
It is fascinating to sit in on therapy
sessions and learn to listen, project,
transfer, get angry, gain personal
insight, learn empathy, grow up and be
entertained. The show, in its second
season, is adapted from an Israeli
drama. Season One is available on DVD.
There’s no word at press time if the
series will be renewed.
THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT (HBO, check
local listings): This four-part series is a
personal look at the full spectrum of
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Maria Shriver, one of the executive producers,
hosts part two and describes
her relationship with her father, Sargent
Shriver (born in 1915), who has Alzheimer’s.
The series is informative, compassionate
and hopeful for families and
caregivers. There is also an extended
segment on the University of Minnesota’s
The Nun Study, first recounted
in David Snowdon, Ph.D’s, 2001 book
Aging With Grace: What the Nun Study
Teaches Us About Leading Longer, Healthier
and More Meaningful Lives.