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*Also starring: Donald Sutherland, Embeth Davidtz, James Gandolfini, Robert Joy, Aida Turturro, Elias Koteas, Allelon Ruggiero

Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

January is known as a cinematic wasteland, a dumping ground where studios to unload the dreck they've been hiding in the dark corners of their shelves. So it's quite refreshing to see premiering in the first month of the year a film with some degree of intelligence such as Gregory Hoblit's Fallen. While the basic ideas behind this supernatural thriller remain more intriguing than their development and execution, Fallen is nonetheless an effective chiller that entertains and leaves audiences plenty to think about.

The setup as shown in the film's previews is deceptively simple. The execution of serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas, picking up where he left off in Crash) does not spell the end of his conflict with idealistic homicide detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington). Apparently, the execution has only freed his evil spirit to inhabit other bodies to do his sadistic bidding, passing from vessel to vessel through mere touch.

As the film progresses, it is revealed that the force that Hobbes must now confront is much larger than expected, and this is where Fallen becomes deeper and more intriguing than most fright shows. Interesting points about theology and the nature of evil are brought up by screenwriter Nicholas Kazan and director Hoblit, who enable the audience to suspend their disbelief by giving it time to digest the supernatural occurrences and explanations after they are served up a little at a time (though Hoblit allows the viewers a bit _too_much_ time--the film's pacing should have been much tighter). However, this is also where Fallen runs into some trouble, for a few points are not resolved to satisfaction. For instance, it is never satisfactorily explained why the spirit can easily enter some people and not others; "purity of soul" is offered as a reason, but what exactly distinguishes that?

But these quibbles can be swept under the rug, due to Hoblit's stylish direction and, most of all, the presence of the ever-charismatic and convincing Washington. He has such a natural rapport with the audience that we instantly believe what he does, and when he is finally convinced of what exactly is going on, we have no problem accepting the situation, either. His supporting cast, which includes John Goodman (as Hobbes's partner, Jonesy) and Donald Sutherland (as their superior), isn't given a whole lot to do (Embeth Davidtz, as a theologan who helps Hobbes, plays merely a walking vessel of exposition).

Fallen is a flawed film, but it at least requires the viewer to think, especially after the jolting conclusion. That's a lot more than most January releases have to offer; then again, I'd venture to guess that that's a lot more than what most releases this entire year will have to offer.

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