A Confluence of Death

Eye of God

Eye of God is a great demonstration of the power of structure. The 1996 film written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson (best known as an actor in such movies as O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Holes) piles cliché upon cliché. You have the sweet-smiling, born-again ex-con Jack (Kevin Anderson) who seems just a little too good to be true, the awkward but good-natured lonely girl Ainsley (Martha Plimpton) who falls in love with him, a depressed rural setting, the crusty sheriff (Hal Holbrook), and an act of violence that surprises nobody. The sheriff even provides a sober, numbing bookend voice-over that’s so ripe it explodes into meaningless syllables.

And yet, the movie works. A couple characters jump off the screen: the bitter parole officer (Richard Jenkins) whose troubles at home infect his relationship with the ex-con, and the quiet, slow boy (played powerfully by Nick Stahl with few words) whose mother killed herself. Plimpton is strong in a role that requires her to be naïvely hopeful but unsurprised and resigned when things go bad. And Anderson has a moment when Jack changes so swiftly that it’s startling and discomforting.

But ultimately, the movie is saved by the way its pieces are manipulated. Nelson starts the movie with Stahl covered in blood and reveals the story in bits and pieces, out of chronological order. But the gist is easy to get. Jack meets Ainsley at a café shortly after he gets out of prison. They get married. He confines her to the house. Then she gets pregnant.

It doesn’t take much to figure out how the plot pieces fit together and how Stahl’s character gets involved. What’s shocking (and satisfying, cinematically, at least) is the way Blake’s storytelling leads naturally to a confluence of death. All the suffering in the world seems packed into a few dense minutes, and Eye of God suddenly feels alive and real.

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