Los Angeles, nowadays. Unknowingly to us humans, angels wander around the City of Angels, providing enlightenment and guiding the departing souls. Wearing dark trench-coats, they gracefully walk from beaches at sunset, to the windy tops of skyscrapers, from hospitals to libraries. One of them is the melancholy Seth. Even though he loves eternity and undying bliss, he also longs for the primitive human pleasures. The taste of a pear. The feel of water running on your skin. The smell of a woman’s hair. One day, while escorting a man dying of heart difficulties to the afterworld, Seth meets Maggie, a heavenly cute blonde doctor who also feels that something is missing from her life. Seth decides to let her see him, and love blushes between the two. But can an angel and a human really be lovers? Can Seth accept to give up eternity for the love of a woman?
This is the premise of this wonderful love story which is about so much more. The themes of life and death are brilliantly explored. This is a movie that really reaches inside of you. I could feel both Seth’s happiness to be eternal and his desperate aching for our life’s little pleasures. And the love that grows between the angel and Maggie is magical yet convincing. The film is extremely well written. The story is involving, the characters are endearing and the dialogue is always sharp. Sad at times, funny at others, the film is always fulfilling. Visually, director Brad Silberling and his cinematographer have done a superb job. I’ve rarely seen a film that looks so good. Practically every shot is riveting. There are lots of aerial shots, and everything has the grace of an angel’s flight, whatever that means. The score is also totally fitting to the sense of wonder the film inspires. As for the songs, they’re all real cool, from the bluesy tunes of Hendrix and Clapton to the emotion-filled ballads of Sarah MacLaghlan, Paula Cole and Alanis Morissette
And wait, there’s more! I haven’t even wrote about the performances yet. The lead is played by Nicolas Cage. I loved him in most everything from the goofy comedy “Valley Girl” to the explosive thriller “Face/ Off”, while his key film remains “Leaving Las Vegas”, for which he won a well-deserved Oscar. In “City of Angels”, he’s great once again. He’s not just sweet and funny. It’s not just his charming sad-eyed look, nor his convincingly angelic body language. There’s something almost spiritual to the way he portrays Seth, a soulfulness that’s only matched by Vegas’s Ben. He plays opposite to America’s Sweetheart Meg Ryan, undoubtedly the cutest romantic lead in Hollywood since “When Harry Met Sally”, but she’s more than just a pretty face. She really has a way of making her character totally convincing. Funny or upset, her character Maggie is always incredibly real. The other main performers are Andre Braugher as a witty Afro-American angel and Dennis Franz as a hedonistic patient. Both are perfect in their roles.
Perhaps the greatest quality of this exceptional film is the way it shows life through an angel’s eyes. Personally, walking out of the theater, I felt different. The film made me realize how wonderful life could be, how a thing as simple as wind on your face or the taste of a pear had value. And trust me, that’s something that not many movies achieve.