I’ve noticed that most of my Sunday films seem to be foreign, particularly Asian, so I thought I might stick with Hollywood for a change. See if they can keep up with the good stuff coming from the East.
Four more of these? Nah.
Upset at God prizing humanity above the angels, Archangel Gabriel visits the mortal plane to find the worst human soul so that he can tip the balance in the second angelic war. It is up to a small-town teacher and a former seminarian turned homicide detective – with an unconventional last-minute assist – to save the day.
This is one of those films that always seems older than it actually is. I was fifteen when it was released, but I don’t remember it being new; it seems like it was just always around. I do remember hearing some stories about it at school, about how it was so awesomely violent and gross (pretty much the limit of most of my peers’ critical thought processes at the time – my own included). I can’t exactly remember who it was who told me that, but I feel like I should track them down and screen Martyrs for them, so they can see what “awesomely violent and gross ” really looks like. While The Prophecy doesn’t quite live up to that particular review, I was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining it was.
The Prophecy belies its low budget by showing off a cadre of classy actors in the main roles including Christopher Walken as Gabriel, Elias Koteas as the cop Daggett, Virginia Madsen as Katherine the teacher, Eric Stoltz as the angel Simon, and Viggo Mortensen as a suitably sleazy Lucifer. Some get rather less screentime than others of course, but they all lend this potentially schlocky genre picture an air of respectability.
Despite having top billing, Walken doesn’t show up until about twenty minutes or so into the film, but from that moment on he owns it. If you took “Blue” Lou Boyle and crossed him with Al Pacino’s John Milton (even though this was released two full years before The Devil’s Advocate) and threw a pair of snazzy leather trousers you’d have some idea where Walken was going with this. It must also be pretty flattering to Chris that Tommy Wiseau seems to have based his look on this role.
As of now, this remains the only feature directed by Gregory Widen (the man all movie geeks owe a beer to for writing Highlander) working from his own script. I’m surprised he hasn’t had more credits, to be honest. Considering his lack of experience behind the camera, the movie has some quite interesting shot compositions and he maintains a nicely escalating sense of creepiness throughout. Stylistically, however, the picture isn’t quite as coherent as it maybe should be. The first half hour or so is in LA with Daggett as he gets a cryptic warning from Simon and goes about his investigation into the death of a strange fella who got hit by a car after going out a window, then the story suddenly shifts to Arizona for no apparent reason other than to bring in the Native American angle. Forgive my ignorance, but aren’t there some reservations in California too?
And then there’s the ending. Maybe I should put a spoiler warning here, but when the film is old enough to vote I think I can skip it. For such a relatively small role – it’s little more than a cameo really – Viggo Mortensen is as committed as ever. The only problem is that he is essentially a walking deus ex machina, or perhaps lux es machina would be more appropriate? Daggett and Katherine have been through so much trying to keep Gabriel away from Mary the pre-teen MacGuffin, only for Old Nick to swoop in at the last minute. If that was going to happen, why did Simon need to get Daggett involved in the first place? I realise that Simon and his fallen brother probably don’t call each other very much these days, but still.
One other minor problem I had with the film, and this is entirely my own, is about timing. Throughout the film, my mind kept jumping to the fifth season arc of the TV series Supernatural, which was also built (in part) around a couple of humans being tapped as instruments in a war in heaven. With talented writers and producers involved, the difference between a long-form, serialised drama and a 90-minute film can be astronomical. While I enjoyed it quite a bit, without that show in my mind I am sure I would have appreciated The Prophecy quite a bit more. Not sure I’ll bother with the four sequels though.