City of Angels (1998)

City of Angels (1998)
 
 
 

Sleepless in Los Angeles

I'm not afraid. When they ask me what I liked the best, I'll tell them, it was you. - Maggie Rice

Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage in City of Angels

The first time I watched "City of Angels" I really enjoyed it, I liked the whole love story between an angel and a doctor and I liked the unexpected ending. But subsequent viewings have left me less and less in love with "City of Angels" as something about it just doesn't feel right. And that same feeling covers the acting as well as where once I felt the pairing of Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan worked it has since become a little problematic. Maybe if I had seen Wim Wnders "Wings of Desire" which this is based upon, I would still be as impressed as I was the first time.

Seth (Nicolas Cage - The Family Man) is one of many angels who lives unseen amongst the people of Los Angeles, observing humans as they go about their lives, guiding them as they face hard decisions as well as making their journey into the next life an easier one when they die. Whilst doing just that he meets Dr. Maggie Rice (Meg Ryan - Sleepless in Seattle) as she fights to save a patient on her operating table and immediately becomes captivated by the beautiful doctor. But being an angel makes matters complicated as whilst he can show himself to Maggie he can't experience what it's like to be a human and so he must make an important decision to become human or stay an angel.

Meg Ryan as Dr. Maggie Rice in City of Angels

The whole idea of "City of Angels" with angels living amongst us, guiding us through life and on to the next world isn't a new concept but it makes for an interesting movie. The first third of "City of Angels" revolves around establishing these heavenly bodies which sit up high on roofs and street signs, observing the world as it goes by. It's all very nice such as the first time we witness Seth guide a young child to the next world as she dies. It's also a little creepy in a way as we don't fully understand who Seth is and as he is dressed in black looks quite ominous. But we learn, we watch the angels in the library observing and understanding or on the beach in some form of collective meditation.

That is the first part of "City of Angels" and the second part where we watch Seth fall for Dr. Maggie Rice as she fights to save a patient on her operating table is just as nice. The fact we begin to understand who Seth is and that he has a thirst to feel life in the same way as humans do is quite nice. It does feel a little wrong in places as Seth shows himself to Maggie, coming across as some sort of sinister stalker which is not helped by his pasty appearance and red rings around his eyes. But it works because you can appreciate that Seth is falling for this beautiful Doctor and Maggie is basically at a crossroads in her life both professionally and personally.

The thing is that at this point "City of Angels" is still good, it does have a few issues which show up on subsequent viewings but it captures your attention. Unfortunately the final part of the movie, the both expected part of the storyline as Seth learns he has free will and chooses to become a human and the unexpected climax seems all a little over done. The subtlety of the first parts of the movie, the beautifully crafted scenes and dialogue are lost as director Brad Siberling seems hell bent on getting an emotional response from the audience. It becomes a little too heavy handed and spoils what could have been a really special movie.

Unfortunately due to the way the storyline goes from subtle to heavy handed has the same affect on the performances. For the first half of the movie Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan work well together delivering a subtle beauty especially as it has a love from afar style element. Nicolas Cage may come over a little too creepy in places, especially when he almost leers over Maggie when she can't see him but it's not a huge problem. But then the minute Seth becomes human the performances change, all that subtlety is lost and there is something all a little too cliche even fake as Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan try to deliver the enthusiasm of early romance.

What this all boils down to is that although with subsequent viewings my affection for "City of Angels" has waned it's still a good movie. The best part of the movie is the first hald which revolves around establishing the lives of angels and Seth as he becomes infatuated with Maggie. But it is let down by a second half which although delivers an unexpected ending ends up being a little too heavy handed as it tries to create an emotional response.

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