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Film review: 'Entertaining Angels'

According to an early Bruce Springsteen song, it's hard to be a saint in the city. That sentiment could apply to Depression-era human-rights activist Dorothy Day.

While the former newspaper reporter and Greenwich Village Bohemian would have quickly shrugged off her saintly status, she nevertheless served as a credited inspiration for the likes of Mother Teresa, John F. Kennedy and Abbie Hoffman.

Producer Ellwood Kieser has added his name to Day's list of admirers with the release of "Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story." In many ways "Angels" emulates his acclaimed 1988 production "Romero", which chronicled the life of El Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero and was also directed by Michael Rhodes.

Rich in period detail and featuring an impassioned lead performance by Moira Kelly, this handsome film appears to have undergone some heavy editing, which has unfortunately resulted in a heavily truncated, frustratingly hard-to-follow story line. Despite all the good intentions, the picture lacks a satisfying dramatic arc that would have done justice to its title character's fascinating life.

We first see Day (Kelly in some rather unconvincing old-age makeup), during the 1960s, sitting in a jail cell after being arrested at a ban-the-bomb protest. The story then goes back almost half a century when Day was an idealistic and determined newspaper reporter who hung with the likes of Eugene O'Neill and Floyd Dell, engaging in barroom debates and other typical Greenwich Village-in-the-Roaring Twenties behavior.

However, a failed romance and subsequent abortion leaves Day searching for direction in her life. Even a more nurturing relationship with Forster Batterham (Lenny Von Dohlen), which produces a daughter, disintegrates when he can't commit to marriage.

Finding a purpose in organized religion, Day addresses Depression-era poverty and suffering by moving to the Lower East Side and starting a newspaper - The Catholic Worker - with a boat-rocking approach that becomes a thorn in the side of a cardinal (Brian Keith). Undeterred and spurred on by French-Canadian mentor Peter Maurin (Martin Sheen), Day opens her cramped apartment to the homeless. She would continue to crusade for human rights up until 1980, when she died at age 83.

Kelly has the right period look and an admirable, feet-on-the-ground commitment that keeps her character rooted in flesh-and-blood reality and fallibility, rather than opting for a loftier, Gandhi-type interpretation. The rest of the performances are equally respectable, although Sheen's colorful take on the seemingly inexhaustible Maurin falls just short of hammy.

Given the obvious chopping in the editing room, it's hard to blame the film's episodic nature on the original script, penned by "ER"'s John Wells. There is enough care given to aspects of character and dialogue to suggest that there was once more than ultimately meets the eye.

Visually, "Angels" is faultless, thanks to impressive work from cinematographer Mike Fash ("The Whales of August") and production designer Charles Rosen ("My Favorite Year", "Taxi Driver").

That it achieves its Rich Look on a very modest budget is an example of industriousness that Dorothy Day, who dedicated a life to finding the means where none seemed to exist, would have applauded.

ENTERTAINING ANGELS:

THE Dorothy Day STORY

Paulist Pictures

Director Michael Rhodes

Producer Ellwood Kieser

Screenwriter John Wells

Director of photography Mike Fash

Production designer Charles Rosen

Editor George Folsey Jr.

Costume designer Gail Evans-Ivy

Music Bill Conti, Ashley Irwin

Color/stereo

Cast:

Dorothy Day Moira Kelly

Peter Maurin Martin Sheen

Sister Aloysius Melinda Dillon

Forster Lenny Von Dohlen

Maggie Heather Graham

Mike Gold Paul Lieber

Floyd Dell Geoffrey Blake

Eugene O'Neill James Lancaster

Frankie Allyce Beasley

The Cardinal Brian Keith

Running time - 112 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13

See also

Credited With | External Sites