God has abandoned Heaven. It's 1985: the Reagans are in the White House and Death swings the scythe of AIDS. In Manhattan, Prior Walter tells Lou, his lover of four years, he's ill; Lou bolts. As disease and loneliness ravage Prior, guilt invades Lou. Joe Pitt, an attorney who is Mormon and Republican, is pushed by right-wing fixer Roy Cohn toward a job at the Justice Department. Both Pitt and Cohn are in the closet: Pitt out of shame and religious turmoil, Cohn to preserve his power and access. Pitt's wife Harper is strung out on Valium, aching to escape a sexless marriage. An angel invites Prior to be a prophet in death. Pitt's mother and Belize, a close friend, help Prior choose. Written by
Set in 1980s New York and subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," the six-hour ANGELS IN America concerns a group of largely gay men who find themselves caught up in series of disasters that range from love to religion and from politics to philosophy--and most specifically caught between the rising tide of AIDS and a generally unsympathetic society.
In the midst of this, AIDS patient Prior Walter begins to have a series of visions, which may be fever dreams, medicine-induced hallucinations... or, most unnerving of all, real. His long dead ancestors rise to speak to him, the floor cracks open to reveal a burning book--and at the conclusion of the play's first half a beautiful woman with majestic wings crashes through his roof. She is the Angel of America. He is, she tells him, a prophet, and she has come to bring him a message for mankind.
Intertwined with Prior's other-earthly experiences are oddly parallel lives. Joe and Harper Pitt are a deeply dysfunctional couple doubting their faith in the Mormon Church, Joe a closeted homosexual, Harper a Valium-addicted and mildly psychotic woman given to visions as strange as those of Prior Walter's. And as further counterpoint historical figure Roy Cohn (1927-1986), among the most sinister figures of 20th Century America, finds himself taunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg as he drifts toward his own AIDS-induced death. The characters swirl in and out of each other's lives and dreams, playing to stereotypes and yet defying them, arguing politics and philosophy and love and death--and it is fascinating stuff.
Although the play stunned 1990s audiences, most considered it utterly unfilmable due to both length and content. But this HBO-produced, Mike Nichols-directed version not only captures the power of the original, in some ways it improves upon it. Playwright Tony Kushner has adapted his work to the screen, rearranging certain problematic scenes and bits of dialogue to better effect, and certainly no one could argue with the cast, which is absolutely stunning in a series of multiple roles.
With a mad swirl of irony, intense drama, outrageous humor, and unexpected twists and turns, ANGELS IN America is almost sure to hold your attention--particularly if you recall the Ronald Reagan years well enough to recognize the truly bitter allegory the film offers on what many consider his largely absentee second term. Truly a must have, multi-layered, bearing repeated viewings, beautifully directed, performed, and filmed.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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