Heaven's Prisoners

on May 17, 1996 by Joseph McBride
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   After languishing on the shelf as a result of Savoy's financial troubles, "Heaven's Prisoners" is finally being released by New Line, and it would be a shame if the delay taints the film's reception. Starring Alec Baldwin as a troubled ex-cop sucked back into the New Orleans demimonde, this crime drama is densely packed with visual atmosphere, character nuance and flavorful dialogue. Director Phil Joanou ("Final Analysis") sustains a mesmerizing tension that flags only in the somewhat protracted denouement.
   Baldwin's Dave "Streak" Robicheaux, a recovering alcoholic trying to patch together his life in a Louisiana bayou with his wholesome wife (Kelly Lynch), is a man who can't help getting himself into scalding water. Even his better instincts, such as rescuing a small Salvadoran girl from a plane crash, lure him into the violence he has tried to escape. Behaving recklessly and masochistically, Streak tangles with vicious gangland killers in two bravura action set-pieces: a nightmarish shootout and a suspenseful foot chase through some of the seamier parts of the Big Easy.
   The intricate plotting and subtly enmeshed character relationships evoke the era of Raymond Chandler rather than indulging the simplistic mayhem that too often passes for crime drama on the screen today. (The film is based on a novel by James Lee Burke.) Although some viewers may find the pacing of "Heaven's Prisoners" too languid, those who go to movies to lose themselves in another world will find it compelling to follow Streak's violent odyssey. Baldwin gives a delicately balanced portrayal of a man torn between the pursuit of justice and surrender to his darker impulses. The able supporting cast also includes Mary Stuart Masterson as his stripper soulmate; Eric Roberts as a creepy ganglord; Vondie Hall Curtis as a suave DEA agent; and Teri Hatcher ("Soapdish") in the showy part of a Cajun femme fatale. Starring Alec Baldwin, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kelly Lynch, Teri Hatcher and Eric Roberts. Directed by Phil Joanou. Written by Harley Peyton and Scott Frank. Produced by Albert S. Ruddy, Andre E. Morgan and Leslie Greif. A New Line release. Drama. Rated R for strong violence and language, and for some nudity. Running time: 131 min
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