If you haven't heard of this movie before you shouldn't be too surprised. After all, Angel-A has managed to fly under the radar for several years now without garnering much notice. Considering just how entertaining this film is, it's a shame that it hasn't received much attention. This isn't one of those movies that just blows you away, but it is beautiful enough that you don't want to miss it. Even though it has a few flaws here and there, Angel-A has the story and imagery to instantly hook you and stick with you for years to come. With the excellent direction of Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional) it's actually quite a shocker that this little indie flick hasn't reached a wider audience. The plot behind the story is more than a little cliché, but Besson manages to make an otherwise tired concept fresh and interesting in ways that James Cameron only wishes he could.
Angel-A follows the story of your prototypical loser, Andre. Down on his luck and looking to end his life rather than to have it taken from him, he finds himself ready to jump off a bridge. Before he jumps, Andre sees a pretty girl next to him who goes through with it before he can. Instead of jumping to end his life, he ends up jumping to save hers. After saving her life, it becomes more than apparent that there is more to this long legged vixen than first meets the eye. To thank Andre for saving her life, Angela decides to help him get his life back in order. Andre isn't quite sure what to make of her, but he sticks with her regardless. After all, it's not as if he has many other options. As the story continues we learn more about Angela as Andre learns more about himself.
If some of this sounds familiar then let me be the first to confirm that you aren't just imagining things. Thankfully, this isn't exactly a holiday flick and it doesn't make any attempt to recreate the exact same story and message as the films that have come before it. If anything, Angel-A flips the typical family friendly approach to this story of self discovery on its head. Rather than to show us a good Christian guy who deserves a second chance, Besson shows us a real scumbag who just so happens to have some good in him. Instead of showing us a saintly savior in Angela, we are shown a provocative and promiscuous blonde without a care in the world. To put it simply, this film paints a picture of salvation that is much more down to earth and realistic than other films like it. Most filmmakers would have a very hard time with a concept like this, but Besson pulls it off with style.
The dialogue and writing in Angel-A are just fantastic. There are certain lines in this movie that will stick with you for a long time. However, the dialogue doesn't tell the story nearly as well as the visuals do. Besson has a certain eye for film making that is unmistakably brilliant. From panoramic scenes of the bridges in Paris to a scene of Andre hanging from the top of the Eiffel tower, instantly giving the viewer a sense of vertigo, the shots and framing in this film are absolutely priceless. One bit of framing that sticks out is a scene which has Angela's head floating over a headless sculpture of an Angel, which has certain connotations that are easily made. Yes, it's kind of cheap and unnecessary, but it's also beautiful and very well done. This is both the reason that you can't afford to miss this movie and the reason why it fails to fully impress. On one hand, the world doesn't need another version of “It's a Wonderful Life,” but on the other hand this is so well done that it's hard to deny it a place in your heart.
Considering the look and feel of the movie, you almost come to expect special effects somewhere. While there are a few scenes which use CGI, they are few and far between, carefully chosen and pretty well done. One could argue that the use of CGI in this film is entirely unwarranted, at the same time admitting that certain scenes aren't necessary, but the special effects in Angel-A are so sparsely used that it seems a pointless argument to make. That being said, there are times when the continuity of the story becomes confusing and even a tad mixed up. At one point in the story we see the two in a hotel room together at night, and after what seems to be a few minutes we see them walk out into daylight. This isn't a huge issue and it doesn't ruin the film, but it does catch your eye if you're paying attention. Over all, Angel-A has very few flaws, but they do keep an otherwise memorable film from becoming something more than just a decent indie flick.
I'm sure that there is a certain group of people out there who would refuse to see this movie based on the fact that it is entirely in french and black and white, but if that is their attitude towards film, perhaps they don't deserve to see the beauty of Angel-A. Say what you will about the overused plot and the continuity issues, but you'd still be a fool to miss out on this movie. Besson is the kind of director who either makes something great or works on something interesting for another project. If you like his other films, you should definitely make a strong effort to check this one out. Sometimes he can be hit or miss, but I'd say he definitely hit the mark with this one.
Angel-A is a movie that should probably be kept secret, not because it is bad but because it is a treasure that only those willing to explore the film should have the pleasure to enjoy. If you know someone who can't stand watching foreign films or black and white, don't tell them about this little guilty pleasure. Keep it for yourself and take it out once in a while when you want to feel inspired. If you haven't seen it yet, you definitely need to pick up the DVD and give it a chance. It isn't perfect, but trust me – you don't want to pass it up.