Directed by Rupert Wainwright
Review by Matt Heffernan
In her video for "Like a Prayer", Madonna used a lot of less-than-subtle religious imagery, including puncture wounds in her palms. Of course, that was "stigmata", when a person inexplicably gets wounds resembling those of Christ during crucifixion. Now, Patricia Arquette stars in what is basically a feature-length version of that video.
Frankie Paige (Arquette) gets a package from her mother, who is vacationing in Brazil. Inside is a rosary she bought from a little boy who stole it from a dead priest. Nobody in the church seemed to notice, since they were all fixated on a statue of the Virgin Mary that was crying human blood. Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) was sent from the Vatican to investigate another "miracle", but found this one by accident.
When he returns to Rome, he is sent to America to investigate Frankie, who has started to receive the stigmata. She also is writing and speaking in Italian and Aramaic, seemingly trying to give some sort of message. Father Andrew and the rest of the Vatican become more interested when it appears that she is using the language of Christ himself.
This film is kind of like The Exorcist, except it's not really that good. Arquette's possession is certainly difficult for her, but it's not exactly an evil force, so the conflict isn't as strong. So what if she's possessed by a dead priest; it could be a lot worse. The progression of the stigmata just happens, and it looks good, but doesn't really cause any suspense. At least it's not entirely predictable, because she gets the wounds in the wrong order.
Jonathan Pryce is supposed to be the heavy: a dogmatic cardinal that sends Byrne on his missions. Pryce is capable of playing an excellent villian, but he isn't given one here. The film doesn't make a good case for why we should be against him, and for Byrne. Again, we see a lack of believable conflict that just makes it all very boring. The film is helped by an interesting score by Elia Cmiral and The Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan. Corgan may follow the path of Danny Elfman from creepy rock star to quirky composer.
Later this year, Kevin Smith's new film, Dogma, will be released. It's theme will be similar to Stigmata, and hopefully the execution will be better. You'd probably be better off waiting for that one to come out.
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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan