Color, 1998, 103 mins.

Written and Directed by Scott Reynolds

Starring Martin Donovan, Joanna Going, Patrick Malahide, Richard Schiff, Danny Edwards / Music by Victoria Kelly / Cinematography by Simon Raby / Produced by Sue Rogers

Format: DVD - Miramax (MSRP $29.95)

Letterboxed (2.35:1) / Dolby Digital 2.0

The second feature film from New Zealand director Scott Reynolds (The Ugly), Heaven never got a chance to find its audience in theaters. Hopefully its surprising release on DVD from Miramax will gain some new followers (despite its generic title and not terribly informative packaging design), as this is easily one of 1999's finest films and completely delivers where most so-called thrillers even fear to tread.

Robert Marling (Martin Donovan), an architect, has moved out from his estranged wife, Jennifer (Dark Shadows' Joanna Going), to an isolated apartment where he spends his nights gambling at a local club with the brutish Stanner (Richard Schiff). Meanwhile Jennifer is fighting for sole custody of her and Robert's child, Sean, and has begun an affair with the couple's slimy therapist (Patrick Malahide). One night after a hefty win, Robert stumbles into an alleyway and inadvertently stops two thugs from beating up Heaven (Danny Edwards), a psychic transvestite stripper (yes, you read that correctly) at Stanner's club. In return, Heaven strikes up a tender friendship with Robert and offers him some helpful advice on the card game the following evening. Unfortunately, Heaven's visions become increasingly violent and sinister, and as she explains, she can only see the future, not change it.

In many ways Heaven picks up where The Ugly left off, telling a similarly fragmented narrative related with scenes frequently cut into each other and out of sequence. While this approach could easily become a confusing stunt in lesser hands, the effect here is often devastating as the viewer begins to simulate Heaven's own precognitive abilities and piece together the various characters and events into an emotionally resonant whole. Also like The Ugly, Reynolds adopts skillful color coding to provoke a separate response for each character and location: the unearthly blue walls crowned with flickering lights in the club, the suffused gold of a posh restaurant, the lime green decor of an apartment. Though impressive, the visual panache only serves the story instead of overwhelming it, a welcome change from the "style for style's sake" method. The performers are all well up to the demands of the intricate script, with Hal Hartley regular Donovan in particular delivering yet another in his run of outstanding performances. His sudden joyous outburst after his big win is worth the price of admission alone. In the tricky role of Heaven, Edwards mixes fear and defiance equally well, preventing the character from becoming an echo of Dil in The Crying Game. In fact, despite the strong violence throughout (and particularly during the climax), the cumulative effect of Heaven is a compassionate, unusually sensitive portrait of well-meaning, flawed people who deserve to have fate deal them a good hand.

Miramax's DVD is simply the only way to see Heaven outside of a theater. Carefully filmed in scope, the compositions would be completely wrecked in a cropped VHS transfer but look nicely preserved here. The Dolby surround soundtrack features some nice if unspectacular directional effects, with Victoria Kelly's elegiac score contributing most of the rear channel activity. Though non-anamorphic, the image quality is consistently satisfying and film-like, with rich colors and detail and no overreliance on digital enhancement in the transfer process. Oddly, the trailer has not been included, though it was available as a download from Miramax's website.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions