Well, there's "Heaven isn't too far away!", or, "I'm findin' it hard to believe we're in Heaven!", or, "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens!". Wow, and that was only the beginning of the many, many references I could make to a song titled "Heaven", although the familiarity in this film doesn't exactly end there, because we're talking about yet another Tom Tykwer thriller about a woman kicking some butt in the name of her male other, or rather, "Run Philipa Run"... named after Cate Blanchett's character in this film, for the record. Speaking of which, it's Blanchett reuniting with Giovanni Ribisi in a film that has something of a supernatural and very generic title, so this may be mistaken as "The Gift 2"... to, you know, that guy who remembers "The Gift". Man, Giovanni Ribisi is an awesome actor, as well he should be if he's going to be working with Cate Blanchett in at least two movies, but he can't really catch a break, not with these forgotten films as vehicles for revelatory performances. I just love seeing Ribisi really embrace his Italian heritage, and seeing the irony in Ribisi's being a Scientologist in something called "Heaven", which is... sacrilegious... I think. Okay, this film isn't really about Heaven, but don't get too excited about seeing something as cool as "Run Lola Run" either, kids, because this was to be the first part in an ultimately incomplete trilogy written by Krzysztof Kieślowski and Piesiewicz, and the last trilogy those guys penned was the "Three Colors Trilogy". Well, sure enough, this film is mightily misguided, though mostly in the scripting, not necessarily, say, the music and cinematography.
Well, the film is so flat that neither its soundtrack nor Frank Griebe's cinematography is allowed to truly thrive, with a mostly unoriginal score being particularly underplayed in this largely quiet affair, which, upon either utilizing pieces by such minimalist classical virtuosos as Arvo Pärt, Marius Ruhland and Tom Tykwer himself, or finding striking, maybe even immersive highlights in visual style, is rather haunting. There are technically beautiful aspects in the film, and if they do find an opportunity to thrive, then it is provided by Tom Tykwer, who, as director, takes an intensely subtle approach that, because of the shortcomings in material, is more tedious than anything, but is almost piercing when it does, in fact, find a dramatic height to draw upon. Something about this film is reflective of Tykwer's capabilities as a dramatic storyteller, because if there is any shred of effectiveness in this drama, then it is encompassed in Tykwer's tasteful, if often tedious subtlety, which seems to have its heart set on salvaging some degree of life from this story. The telling of this tale is so misguided that the story's value is all but obscured, while its great deal of conceptual thinness goes fiercely stressed, but there is something to admire in this subject matter, and it's not in the melodramatic and minimalist plot, or in the thin and barely buyable characterization, but in worthy themes that explore upholding justice in the most brutal of manners, confronting terrible mistakes, and doing right by the heart when what you once believed in has its image besmirched. These are all human themes in a developmentally flimsy character piece, and if there are sold, then it is either in the aforementioned highlights in Tywker's thoughtful storytelling, or in a strong cast that has its standout moments, most of which are by the subtle and graceful Giovanni Ribisi who is surprisingly convincing with both an Italian accent and a sense change in views on justice, and by a beautiful Cate Blanchett, whose remarkable emotional range presents both piercing delicacy and devastating intensity in order to sell the Philippa character's passion, frustration and guilt. The tools to make a very powerful character study are there, and, outside of the consistently strong acting, they're all dulled down by some sort of artistic misguidance that only grows worse as things progress, but when there is, in fact, focus in the vision of this drama, it begets some degree of effectiveness. For a long time, the film is effective, and decent, and then there comes a point where the conceptual intrigue, tasteful artistry and direction, and inspired acting fail to truly pull through the issues, which grow clearer and clearer, but never actually abate.
Somewhat refreshing in its lack of certainly regarding whether it is to be a grounded drama or, as Paul Matwychuk of Canada's "Vue Weekly" perfectly put it, "arthouse hoakum", the film is rather conventional, on either extreme of the storytelling style spectrum it jars through, whether it be falling into the usual arthouse pseudo-abstractionism whose basic nature is tedious enough without the familiarity, or conforming to more accessible dramatics so deeply that it succumbs to histrionic, which gradually grow a little more prominent, until a romantic angle is forced in, made somewhat subtle only by the overt subtlety that defines and ultimately ruins this melodrama. Only so much ever truly sells in this film whose dramatic heights ride on the backs of questionable character motivations that one might be able to get a firmer grip on if it wasn't for the expository issues, which find characterization undercooked, like subtle shifts in focus whose transitions aren't fleshed out enough to feel truly organic in the context of plotting focus. The angles gradually begin to converge, thus, focal inconsistency is not as big of an issue as the underdevelopment that, as irony would have it, only continues to intensify as the plot progresses, taking twists and turns that seem to come in from out of the left field, barely, if at all motivated enough to be convincing, or able to sell a sense of rising action. There's a dreadfully cruel irony in Krzysztof Kieślowski's and Piesiewicz's script, because as the plot thickens in concept, the interpretive storytelling only grows thinner, although it's not as though the plot ever thickens to a tremendously juicy extent, for what histrionics there are go forced in as some desperate attempt at carrying this narrative beyond meticulous, ultimately thinly executed meditations on dialogue and minimalist set pieces that, while thematically important, mostly wield only so much substance, yet are still so aimless so often. The extremes in the meanderings might not so much be the fault of this unfocused story concept, as much as it might be the fault of Kieślowski's and Piesiewicz's exacerbating all of the aimlessness through monotonously draggy scripting that couples with the considerable thinness in expository depth in order to craft a seemingly brief runtime of under 100 minutes whose lack of direction results in a glacial pacing. Whether it be a deliberate exercise in artistic indulgence or whatever, this film is draggy something awful in its take on an already thin and questionable story, and that places a serious threat on the engagement value of this film that, well, could have easily been overpowered if it wasn't for the fact that much more often than not, the film is terribly boring, its stylistic heights being rare, and its thoughtful directorial effectiveness being even rarer, due to there being so little material for Tom Tykwer to draw upon with his meditative direction, which grows more and more tedious, and tries one's patience more and more, until the final product loses the last bit of spark that could have saved it. The film has potential, opening with an excessively meandering, but somewhat gripping hook, then leading into a body that, because of the thematic intrigue, dramatic heights and strong acting, is so decent for so long that the final product comes close to transcending mediocrity, but somewhere along the way, it just becomes near-impossible to forgive this misguided drama, whose shortage of true depth and resonance only grows greater with the artistic buffoonery of a script that files down patience about as much as it files down direction, and is accompanied by a tedious atmosphere, until the final product ever so slightly, but nonetheless decidedly succumbs to mediocrity, at best.
All in all, there are few tasteful highlights in the scoring, cinematography and direction to do some sort of justice to valuable human themes that best emulated through a respectable cast that Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi lead with sharpness, so there is a fair bit to admire here, almost to the point of maintaining decency that is ultimately lost somewhere along the onslaught of conventions, histrionics, narrative thinness, lack of expository and plot focus, and tedious atmospheric dryness that barely, but decidedly secures Tom Tykwer's "Heaven" as a sometimes promising, but ultimately flat, hopelessly misguided arthouse drama.
2.25/5 - Mediocre