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At First Sight

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: At First Sight

Starring: Val Kilmer, Mira Sorvino
Director: Irwin Winkler
Rated: R
RunTime: 128 Minutes
Release Date: January 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Kelly McGillis, Bruce Davison

Review by Walter Frith
3 stars out of 4

'At First Sight' is written by Steve Levitt, Irwin Winkler and Rob Cowan and is based on the story 'To See and Not See' by Oliver Sacks. Irwin Winkler also lends his talents as director to the film. You may remember another Oliver Sacks story turned into a movie in 1990 entitled 'Awakenings'. That film chronicled the experimental tests that led to the temporary success of a doctor treating patients for a deadly form of sleeping sickness. Robin Williams was the doctor and Robert De Niro the patient. Two powerhouse actors that brought their consummate craftsmanship to a very human subject. The extremely subtle and wonderfully crafted story of 'At First Sight' is no classic but takes the idea of human sight, and how we all (whether we want to admit it or not) take it for granted and how painful it would be to adjust to a world of darkness. Just turn the tables and try to imagine the story of a blind man, sightless since the age of three because of severe cataracts, and how painful it is to adjust to a world of sight where you're used to years of adapting to the dark and not understanding the three dimensional concept of perfect vision.

You wouldn't think that someone would feel more comfortable being blind after being given the opportunity to see but truth is stranger than fiction and that's exactly what happens in this film which is one of 1999's most pleasant early surprises. The story has some of the names changed and this is a mystery to me because the characters are so inspirational that they should be proud to have their names displayed as the real ones in this movie. Val Kilmer portrays Virgil Adamson, the individual in question who, until the age of 8, had his eyes worked on by the medical community almost to the point of torture and his sister (Kelly McGillis) is reluctant to have him go through the procedure again as a fully grown adult. He meets the love of his life, Amy Benic (Mira Sorvino) who is more open to the idea of him seeing than he is. Her heart is in the right place but she realizes later that Virgil has his own decision to make. After meeting the leading eye doctor on the east coast of the U.S. (Bruce Davison), Virgil agrees to the procedure and the medical institute, using his case for their own experimental ends, agree to pick up the tab.

The highlight of the film comes after the operation and while sitting in his wheelchair surrounded by his love ones, the bandages are taken off Virgil's eyes and he slowly begins to adjust to a world of sight. Val Kilmer is stunning in this film. It's obvious that Kilmer has always struggled to be an intense method actor. He virtually threw himself into radical research for the role of Jim Morrison for 1991's 'The Doors' and was terrific in it. He has had his misses like everyone else, but he brings a sublime and memorable portrayal of a blind individual to the screen with a likable persona but his character never goes awry to making this a disease of the week movie with weepy sentimentality. Mira Sorvino's performance as the lady in his life is wonderful. She's every guy's dream girlfriend. Considerate, tolerant, patient and most of all understanding. Their chemistry is convincing and totally memorable. Rather underwritten and not used properly in the film is a therapist (Nathan Lane) who helps Virgil adapt to his new world. For his small part in this film, Lane is quite good at drama.

This film's strongest asset is its attention to detail. It focuses on the little parts of Virgil Adamson's therapy after receiving surgery to correct his eyesight. And while he never fully adjusts to a world of sight, his brief journey into that world is one that should be cherished by everyone who's ever thought seriously about any handicap -- whether it's physical or mental.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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