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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 Greg King
3 stars out of 4

Audiences who love a good cry at the movies, and who haven't overdosed yet on the saccharine excesses of Message In A Bottle and its ilk, are in for a treat with At First Sight, a sort of light weight cross between The Miracle Worker and A Patch Of Blue.

Virgil Adamson (Val Kilmer) works as a masseur at an upstate New York health spa. He has also been blind since he was three years old. He hasn't written a book like Helen Keller, he doesn't play the piano like Ray Charles, nor does he sing like Stevie Wonder. But he has a wonderful, self-deprecating sense of humour and a healthy appetite for life. And he does have magic hands! It's a case of love at first touch for stressed out, divorced New York architect Amy Benic (Oscar winner Mira Sorvino, from Mighty Aphrodite, etc), who comes to the spa for some much needed relaxation and battery recharging. It takes just one incredible massage session with Virgil for her to fall completely and helplessly in love with him. It takes her a little longer to accept his blindness.

Before long though, Amy has convinced Virgil to come to New York and visit a doctor (Bruce Davison, from Six Degrees Of Separation, etc) who may be able to restore his sight. Virgil's sister Jennie (Kelly McGillis, from Witness, etc) has made a lot of personal sacrifices in her own life to look after him since their father took off, and she initially resents Amy's intrusive presence. The operation is a success. That is when the real problems begin as Virgil adjusts to seeing the world as it really is for the first time, and begins to lose sight of what he really wanted.

At First Sight is an old fashioned romance, albeit given an added dimension through Virgil's blindness. The story is based on a true case study written by neurologist Oliver Sacks (the doctor who also wrote Awakenings), but has been reworked by first time feature writer Steve Levett to neatly fit into the Hollywood approved template for romantic dramas. Director Irwin Winkler (The Net, etc) unashamedly puts both his central characters, and the audience, through the emotional wringer during the course of this two hanky job. Aussie cinematographer John Seale does some neat visual tricks to effectively convey Virgil's gradual recovery of sight.

Both Kilmer and Sorvino are an attractive and likeable couple, and they deliver solid and engaging performances. Kilmer's realistic performance especially reveals emotional depths that he hasn't tapped into very often. The wonderful Nathan Lane injects some humour as the irreverent Phil Webster, a visual therapist who helps Virgil cope with understanding this brave new world of sight.

Ultimately, At First Sight is nothing that we haven't seen before, in one form or another, but it is the obvious chemistry between its two stars that gives the familiar material its spark and affecting qualities.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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