Alec Baldwin and Mary Stuart Masterson star in HEAVEN'S PRISONERS, directed by Phil Joanou for New Line Cinema.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996, Phil Joanou)

I probably read Heaven’s Prisoners, the novel, about eighteen years ago; I don’t remember it. But I’m sure this adaptation is faithful to the events of the novel because this movie is a mess and there’s no good reason for it.

The novel can have space for a mystery and a character drama, but–at least under Joanou’s exceptionally bad direction–there’s no way the movie can have enough room. A decision needed to be made, whether they wanted to make a mystery, an alcoholism drama or a revenge thriller and no one seemed willing to make it. So instead of Heaven’s Prisoners, the film, succeeding, it fails.

It’s not a complete failure. Alec Baldwin is a problematic lead, but decent enough. Had he and nemesis Eric Roberts switched roles, the film would have been amazing, Joanou or not. Roberts is still great as a bad guy.

Also phenomenal–a word I rarely use–is Mary Stuart Masterson, who really gets the short end of the adaptation stick. In order to match the novel’s conclusion, the screenwriters fail her character. It really is one of the worst adaptations… the narrative structure, an abridging of the novel, is disastrous.

Bad acting from Kelly Lynch and laughably awful from Teri Hatcher make for painful scenes, but they don’t really do more damage than the direction.

Joanou somehow manages to suck the life out of New Orleans and Louisiana’s swamps, making them incredibly boring.

Inappropriate and bad music from George Fenton hurt it too.

It’s still worthwhile.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Joanou; screenplay by Harley Peyton and Scott Frank, based on the novel by James Lee Burke; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by William Steinkamp; music by George Fenton; production designer, John Stoddart; produced by Leslie Greif, Andre Morgan and Albert S. Ruddy; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Dave Robicheaux), Kelly Lynch (Annie Robicheaux), Mary Stuart Masterson (Robin Gaddis), Eric Roberts (Bubba Rocque), Teri Hatcher (Claudette Rocque), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Minos P. Dautrieve), Badja Djola (Batist), Samantha Lagpacan (Alafair), Joe Viterelli (Didi Giancano), Tuck Milligan (Jerry Falgout), Hawthorne James (Victor Romero), Don Stark (Eddie Keats), Carl A. McGee (Toot) and Paul Guilfoyle (Det. Magelli).


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