With the success of Bill Paxton's FRAILTY (2001), it would only be a matter of time before Tim Blake Nelson's directorial debut EYE OF GOD (1996), another small-scale drama juxtaposing the events leading up to murder and its aftermath in an American 'Bible Belt' state, found its way onto home video.
The setting is the rapidly diminishing oil town of Kingfisher, Oklahoma. Late one evening two cops discover 14-year old local Tom Spencer (Nick Stahl) wandering around in a haze and caked in blood. He is gently questioned by Sheriff Rogers (Hal Holbrook) and we are taken back to events six months earlier.
Born again Christian Jack Stillings (Kevin Anderson) has been released from prison, having arranged a rendezvous with young Kingfisher waitress Ainsley Dupree (Martha Plimpton) with whom he had been corresponding during his stay in prison. Ainsley is alone in life and keen to start up a family following the death of her cruel father. The two decide to marry within days, Jack's newly found religion means that he is unable to contemplate sex outside of marriage but Ainsley soon finds herself pregnant.
The town’s dwindling custom leads to Ainsley losing her job, and so she takes to wandering around town chatting to people in order to relieve her boredom, whikst her husband is working as a mechanic. But this is brought to a halt when Jack demands that she stay at home. From here on in it’s apparent that Jack's jealousy and fundamentalim are totally in contrast to Ainsley's mild nature and agnostic views. When Jack's parole officer lets it slip that Jack had been incarcerated for viciously beating up a previous pregnant girlfriend causing her to miscarry, Ainsley recalls the religious zealotry of her father, and his controlling ways, and so decides to abort the child and leave her husband whilst she still has some control over her future. She meets young Tom Spencer in a local diner following the abortion, and the scene is set for a horrendous conclusion.
Beautifully woven, with a fine sense pacing, this fabulous little film is yet another obscure gem that undoubtedly deserves wider exposure. EYE OF GOD is an austere vision of loneliness, which never stoops to melodrama in order to engage one's sympathy. The performances are a revelation; Martha Plimpton star of I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996) and PECKER (1998) is perfect in the role of Ainsley, who is searching for some form of fulfilment in a forlorn life. HAL HOLBROOK gives one of his finest performances as the worldly-wise Sheriff who prefers to live out his days in a small town where he can sway court judgements with impassioned reasoning. And, finally, Kevin Anderson, is wholly convincing with his portrayal of the control-freak who can't bear to be alone.
This carefully crafted feature, developed at the Sundance Institute, manages to sustain suspense throughout the narrative by constantly refocusing viewer attention on the possibilities of the inevitable denouement that we know results in death. Russell Lee Fine's cinematography captures the desolate oil fields of Oklahoma and rustic charm of its declining towns flawlessly and is complemented by Kate Sanford's smooth editing to help create a rich and engaging piece of cinema that haunts the viewer long after the titles have died. A very pleasant film, devoid of pretence and one which fans of independent filmmaking should go out of their way to track down.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Tim Blake Nelson
English Language with optional English
USA / 2002 / 84 minutes.
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
Hidden Theatrical Trailers for EYE OF GOD and THE GREY ZONE
A Lions Gate Films DVD Release
Region 1. NTSC. Dolby Digital Stereo.
EYE OF GOD