A Rumor of Angels
A traumatized 12-year-old boy and an eccentric elderly woman in a small Maine seaside town overcome loneliness and grief when they form an unlikely bond and connect with the beyond.
Packed with too much goodness and determined to push its platform of paranormal events, A Rumor of Angels is an overwrought drama about friendship, grief and the spiritual rebirth of a boy and his eccentric recluse neighbor. Twelve-year-old James Neubauer, his father Nathan and his stepmother Mary are spending their summer vacation in the small seaside town where the boy's mother died years earlier in a car accident near a local bridge. Because James has been traumatized by her death, he has problems connecting with his often absent father and new mother. When James wanders onto the property of eccentric elderly neighbor Maddy Bennett, who lives in a decrepit shingled house overlooking the ocean, she scares the boy by firing a rifle in his direction. After a showdown with the Neubauers, Maddy succeeds in hiring James to rebuild and paint her fence. An unlikely friendship ensues when James becomes a kind of surrogate son to Maddy, who lost her own son in the Vietnam War, and the stern but caring Maddy becomes mother surrogate the boy so desperately needs. Maddy, also beset by grief, teaches James about the power of remembrance and imagination and the possibility of angels and communicating with those long gone. James also learns about the importance of family, love, friendship and spiritual awakening.
Vanessa Redgrave is terrific as usual as the eccentric recluse Maddy, giving yet another powerful performance that dazzles, delights and soars beyond the limitations of the character as written. Trevor Morgan is fine, if not memorable, as James. Catherine McCormack as the stepmother, Ron Livingston as a slacker uncle, and veteran actor George Coe as Maddy's oldest friend also turn in serviceable performances. Only Ray Liotta, so memorable in edgier, meatier roles like those in Something Wild and Goodfellas or the more recent Hannibal and Blow, is out of his element as a frustrated, often absent dad. In fact, most of the actors are chewed up by the gorgeous, evocative Nova Scotia locales that brilliantly stand in for the Maine village.
Director Peter O'Fallon's biggest obstacle in A Rumor of Angels appears to be his own screenplay, which he co-wrote and adapted from the very old inspirational novel Thy Son Liveth. Most filmgoers won't get beyond the film's pile-up of hokum about communication with the dead. Also, the horror and mystery elements that A Rumor of Angels plants early on dissipate into a cinematic sermon about familiar family values and faith. The messages may be poignant, but the drama sending them isn't. O'Fallon relies instead on lovely cinematography, scenes suggestive of paranormal reality (those lights, those angels), and a soundtrack rich in classical music--all at the expense of delivering a credible story with flesh and blood characters who actually sound like they just might be real New Englanders. His direction is style over substance, scenery over psychological truths.
A Rumor of Angels delivers huge doses of postcard pretty scenery and inspirational messages about important values and paranormal phenomena, but it preaches to the converted. Those who seek comfort in traditional values and who are easily seduced by the possibility of communication with angels and the deceased won't be disappointed.