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BRIGHT ANGEL(director: Michael Fields; screenwriter: Richard Ford/from the short stories by Richard Ford “Great Falls Children”; cinematographer: Elliot Davis; editors: Clement Barclay/Melody London; cast: Dermot Mulroney (George Russell), Lili Taylor (Lucy), Sam Shepard (Jack Russell), Burt Young (Art Falcone), Bill Pullman (Bob), Valerie Perrine (Aileen Russell), Sheila McCarthy (Nina), Delroy Lindo(Harley), Mary Kay Place (Judy), Benjamin Bratt (Claude), Will Patton (Woody), Alex Bulltail (Sherman); Runtime: 94; Hemdale; 1991)
“The spacious but authentic location shots set the mood for the danger that awaits the two innocents.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Bright Angel is set in the Big Sky Country of Montana and Wyoming. It is a road picture about a pair of hapless young people who get into a crime situation above their head and manage to cling to each other despite the uncertainty of where their temporary feelings of love will leave them. It is also about the coming-of-age of a kind-hearted young man, who can’t make out what to think about his parents bitter break-up and is unsure of what the future holds for him in this dull small town he lives in. The spacious but authentic location shots set the mood for the danger that awaits the two innocents.

The opening scenes show how violence is part of everyday life for these characters struggling to find themselves. Lucy (Lili Taylor) is a young trashy woman from Canada, with a heavy French-Canadian accent, who has just slept with a married older Indian man (Bulltail). He tells his angry son Claude (Bratt) to get her away from here before his wife returns. George Russell (Dermot Mulroney), who is best friends with Claude, goes along with him to take the girl for a ride, but George’s father Jack (Shepherd) steals him away to clean the ducks they just killed earlier on. At home the embittered Jack finds his wife (Valerie Perrine) with another man from the local military base and becomes upset with her long string of infidelities and kicks her out, as he holds a gun to her lover’s head (Patton) and threatens to kill the frightened serviceman.

Distraught over what happened to his parents, the lonely boy meets up again with Lucy and Claude in the local diner. She tells him she’s going to Casper, Wyoming, to help her brother who is in prison there. George decides to give her a ride there, with Claude coming along. But things don’t work out that well, as Claude is hostile to the wise-cracking girl. George, meanwhile, has become attracted to her though he is too timid to say so. He stops Claude from further harassing her by giving him bus fare back to Montana.

In one of the oddest scenes George visits his mother’s sister in Casper, someone he hasn’t seen since he was a little kid. She’s married to an angry black ex-serviceman Harley (Lindo) who is crippled in a wheelchair. Harley had an accident in his workplace after leaving the service, which he blames the other workers for. He shows George his gun collection and goes on ranting about how he’s going to kill those in white sheets who are going to come after him to finish what they made of him.

With all these bizarre characters and all the anger and guns around, the tension builds. The modern West is made to be a place where the road to hopelessness is the only road for the forlorn townies. Even though the scenery is so open and beautiful, everyone seems screwed-up and hostile.

Lucy has stolen $6,000 from her father and plans to buy off a witness named Bob (Pullman), so that he won’t testify when the trial begins. In the house at the time she makes him the offer are a colorful couple, Art (Burt Young) and Nina (Sheila McCarthy), who overhear this offer and mysteriously take the place of Bob as they come to collect the money.

Michael Fields’ debut feature has set an arresting film noir mood for its main characters and has the film driven by excellent performances by Lili Taylor and Dermot Mulroney, who wisely feed off the outstanding support they receive from the rest of the cast. The sparse story is enhanced by the intelligence of how observant the script is of the characters and the territory it is set in. The film accomplishes all it can and does it by setting a disturbing mood, whose spell is broken occasionally by the comical nature of the characters and the power emanating from the wide open spaces.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”