Eye of God
Director: Tim Blake Nelson. Cast: Martha Plimpton, Kevin Anderson, Nick Stahl, Hal Holbrook, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Mary Kay Place. Screenplay: Tim Blake Nelson (based on his play).

Tim Blake Nelson's unassuming but powerful Eye of God was one of those pictures I knew I wanted to see even though I explicitly denied myself of chances to know what it was about. The preliminary informations, and it's all I'm willing to divulge, is that Martha Plimpton plays a waitress in a small, rural Oklahoma town, where she finally arranges a rendezvous with her pen-pal of several months. Yes, the pen pal is a recently-released convict (played by Kevin Anderson of Sleeping With the Enemy and television's short-lived Nothing Sacred), but Plimpton's Ainsley has had a rare chance to glimpse Jack's reformed side through his sensitive letters. Jack and Ainsley eventually develop a close relationship, one which the filmmakers intercut with a mysterious plot involving a mute, blood-covered boy (The Man Without a Face's Nick Stahl).

It is not immediately clear what these two stories have in common; it is not even clear that they do intersect. Nelson, who appeared briefly as a soldier in The Thin Red Line, asks only that his audience wait patiently for his tight, dark story to unravel. Neither the cross-cutting between the two plots nor the crisp cinematography by Russell Lee Fine can hide the stage origins of Eye of God—Nelson was also the author of the original play—but he shows a refreshing restraint with the story's most disturbing elements, and he packs Eye of God with so much emotion that the story comes to seem much more complicated and resonant than it probably really is. Martha Plimpton also effectively sheds her history of shrewish, precocious wise-asses and constructs Ainsley with exceptional care and delicacy. Word of mouth on this performance and this picture, though kept admittedly small by its limited theatrical release, was nonetheless extraordinarily strong. I did not even read the back of the video box when I rented Eye of God, and despite the fact that many of the film's developments and resolutions are fairly easy to predict, the picture still packs a mighty wallop. It certainly contains more surprises than one expects as it builds to its somewhat inevitable climax, and I hope that more viewers will give the film a chance. Grade: B

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