Mike Nichols’ new HBO drama “Angels in
America” is a six-part epic that examines 1980s AIDS America
in the in the milieu of Reaganism. Boasting an ensemble cast,
including the legendary Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, this
mini-series seems to be what HBO was made for.
Adapting his own Tony- and Pulitzer-Prize winning play, Tony
Kushner relishes in the big-budget freedom and spares nothing as
his play retains all its intensely imaginative ideas while staying
firmly grounded in the stark reality of the situation. He
delicately balances a cadre of stories, emotions and themes while
Al Pacino plays the lecherous Roy Cohn, an AIDS-afflicted closet
homosexual, and gives one of his best performances in years. He is
devilish fun to watch when he wants to be, and equally vile and
contemptible the next. His monologue about the definition of a
homosexual stands as the highlight of the film thus far. Mary
Louise-Parker (“The West Wing”) is a scene-stealer as
the valium-popping discontent housewife Harper Pitt and Jeffrey
Wright (“Basquiat”) is incredible in both his roles as
the gay nurse Belize and as Harper’s delusion of a travel
Often wildly surrealistic, the film gives the feeling that
anything can happen. When two utterly disparate characters meet in
the stupor of their hallucinations, wake up and remember their
meeting you realize anything is happening. Its flights of fancy are
frequent and funny but the film understands its gravity and is
grounded by its deeply conflicted characters that pull in opposite
Using period references, Nichols accurately recreates the era.
The ’80s feel permeates throughout the movie and the brutal
realism of the early outbreak of the AIDS epidemic is as important
as it is difficult to watch.
The film uses a wicked device in having several of the actors
portray completely different characters. Streep plays a prehistoric
rabbi, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, and the mother of a conflicted
gay Mormon. After a while it becomes incredibly fun to discern
exactly who is what, a nearly impossible task if it were not for
the aid of the credits.
The first three-hour half played last Sunday and the cliffhanger
it ended on ensures my return next week for the concluding half as
easily as it will take home numerous Emmy’s come award-time.
HBO continues to effortlessly turn out quality program after
program while other networks flounder. The willingness to do the
unconventional as well as the original makes “Angels in
America” what it is. An impeccable marriage of writing,
acting and directing is well worth the six hour investment.
Rating: 5 stars