“I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss of her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it. One.”
Brad Silberling’s City of Angels isn’t a film that seems to have aged well and perhaps it suffers a bit from the Nicholas Sparks syndrome we’ve been exposed to over recent years. I’m not bashing on Sparks because I was a fan of The Notebook, but his stories seem to have been recycled over recent years and its hard not to find them emotionally manipulative. That’s the case with Silberling’s film as well, it seems as it is trying to force a chemistry that isn’t really perceivable. The film is a loose remake of Wim Wender’s German film, “Wings of Desire,” which I haven’t seen but heard is far superior. After seeing City of Angels I honestly have no desire to watch the original. I felt like something was missing from this screenplay (adapted by Dana Stevens) and perhaps it was simply the cast, but I never found the romance behind this story believable. Costner did a much better job than Cage does here playing the lead character in Stevens’s previous screenplay “For Love of the Game” which is a film I still admire despite its flaws. There was something about Cage’s performance here that simply didn’t resonate with me. I found his character more of a creepy stalker than anything else and his puppy dog eyes didn’t change my perception either. Cage is a talented actor and there are a number of films where I’ve really enjoyed his performances, but this wasn’t one of them.
City of Angels introduces us to a guardian angel named Seth (Nicolas Cage) who watches over the people of Los Angeles along with many other angels. One day as he is sent to pick up a dying patient at a hospital he falls for a heart surgeon named Maggie (Meg Ryan). He is captivated by the way she fights for this patient’s life and how his death affects her. He begins falling her around and after giving it some thought he allows her to see him. He’s never experienced touch or feelings before so he asks her to describe everything around her, such as the taste of the pear she’s eating and so on. He is surprised when one of her patients at the hospital senses his presence. Nathaniel Messinger (Dennis Franz) is a man who enjoys life to the fullest and while he is being treated at the hospital he acknowledges Seth’s presence. He confesses that he was once an angel who decided to give up on eternal life as an angel to become human. When Seth realizes this is possible he begins to ponder wether or not he too should fall to Earth to be with the woman he has become enfatuated with.
Silberling’s film isn’t simply a love story, it is a film about living life to its fullest and learning to appreciate the small things in life. That is what it tries to say anyway in a rather manipulative way through Cage’s character. I think that the film misses its opportunity to explore love and how it is much deeper than a simple feeling. Seth was the perfect vehicle to explore this considering he could not feel anything but somehow he felt attracted to Maggie. Unfortunately the film doesn’t explore this and it lacks that emotional impact that I though a film like this could deliver. The lack of a stronger chemistry between Ryan and Cage definitely hurts the film, but at least Dennis Franz elevates the material. It’s a shame this is the last film he made considering he went on to work in NYPD Blue for more than a decade and has retired from acting since. He showed a lot of potential here playing a very different role. Andre Braugher also gets to share some scenes with Cage as one of his fellow angels as the two philosophize about life. After having been released over 15 years ago the greatest legacy this film has left is its soundtrack, which is easily recognizable thanks to its popular pop songs.