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WE'RE NO ANGELS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Demi Moore, Hoyt Axton, Bruno Kirby, James Russo
Director: Neil Jordan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: None
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: February 17, 2004

"We're all going to fry for the guards we shot."

"EXCUSE ME, EXCUSE ME, EXCUSE ME--YOU shot the guards, Bob."

Film ***

With names like Robert De Niro and Sean Penn, one would normally expect a film of great dramatic conviction. A film were youíd see two actors, both known for injecting realistic emotions in their performance, create a memorable piece that would haunt you for days. Both actors have accomplished that very task; De Niro in The Deer Hunter and Raging Bull, and Penn in Dead Man Walking and, most recently, Mystic River.

So it may seem surprising, even 15 years down the road, that in 1989 these two ultra-serious actors paired up for a comedy where they played two slightly inept escaped convicts disguised as priests. They did just that, and although it couldíve been a risky gesture by both of them, Weíre No Angels turned out to be a most pleasant surprise. It was pure proof that even the most serious of actors had a goofy side, and De Niro and Penn displayed it perfectly here. This actually wasn't the first time either of them had acted in a comedy. If you remember, Pennís breakthrough work was in no less than the comedy classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

The film is both adapted from a play and a remake of a 1955 Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name. Set in the 1930s, the movieís plot involves two imprisoned convicts, Ned (De Niro) and Jim (Penn), who are given a chance to start over. This comes thanks in part to an incident instigated by fellow, and much more crazed inmate, Bobby (James Russo). The incident results in the two being able to escape the prison entirely. In order to elude the authorities indefinitely, Ned and Jim need to make it to the nearby Canadian border. Sounds easy, but first the two will have to undergo a certain disguise as a small border town in Maine is the only thing standing between them and their freedom.

Their situation grows even more heated when the two are suddenly mistaken for a couple of priests. Members of the town turn out to be very sweet natured, as they provide the two unsuspecting individuals with shelter in the local monastery. They eventually decide to go along with the gag until they feel the time is right to make a quick cut to the very bridge that connects the town to Canada. Their dilemma isnít helped, either, when Ned finds he is the target of attraction by Molly (Demi Moore), a town resident and single parent.

Although the mistaken identity plot scenario was dated even by 1989ís standards, the level of talent both behind and in front of the camera makes all the difference in the filmís success. It certainly helps when your screenplay is written by David Mamet. Both actors are given funny individual moments. De Niro is asked to comfort a wounded person, with having absolutely no knowledge of what he must do, and Penn has a scene where he must delver a sermon to the townspeople. Both scenes reach levels of brilliantly inspired goofiness.

Directed by Neil Jordan, and beautifully shot by Philippe Rousselot, one of cinemaís most outstanding cinematographers, Weíre No Angels is light, but harmless fun as two of our most outstanding actors take a break from the norm and endure a moment on the goofy route. Itís interesting to watch in this time period because, although De Niro has recently appeared in numerous comedies, I donít think itís the kind of movie youíd see both of these actors teaming up for today.

Video ****

The turnout of any of Paramountís catalogue titles is always never easy to predict. Sometimes they turn up a bit better than you would expect, and other times they are presented in a picture that, while not impressive, was probably as good as it could appear. The anamorphic picture on Weíre No Angels stunned me beyond words, because I hadnít really seen an 80s movie from Paramount appear in such sharp glory, say maybe for a Star Trek feature. Every shot in the film is presented in the utmost form of clarity, and Rousselotís beautiful cinematography looks even more fantastic. Truly one of the more surprising turnouts of recent memory.

Audio ***

The 5.1 track is very much serviceable, even if the movie is a comedy based mostly on words than anything else. Dialogue delivery is clean and clear as always, and the music playback of the classy score by George Fenton is very much the highpoint of the discís performance. Much well done!

Features (Zero Stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

By todayís standards, you can look at Weíre No Angels as a once in a lifetime gig by two serious actors replacing their emotional range with that of a super goofy range. De Niro and Penn are most engaging in this change of pace piece, and the directing and atmospheric cinematography are superb bonuses, as well.