Eye Of God may well be the bleakest title on the new-release shelf at the moment, but it's also one of the best. The first film from writer/director Tim Blake Nelson (best known, if at all, for minor roles in Donnie Brasco, Amateur, and Heavyweights), Eye Of God was produced with help from the Sundance Institute, and won the American Independent Award at the Seattle Film Festival. But, like most vaguely unclassifiable films, it didn't receive much of a chance in theaters. In a non-chronological manner, Eye Of God tells the story of a lonely Oklahoma waitress (a first-rate Martha Plimpton) who takes in and marries an ex-con (Kevin Anderson) with whom she's fallen in love through the mail. Anderson, however, has converted to an unforgivingly dogmatic variety of fundamentalism, and refuses to share his past, a situation that causes considerable strain on their marriage. At the same time, and in a way that doesn't become clear until later, there's also a related story, recounted by a local sheriff (Hal Holbrook) whose men have found a wandering, speechless teenage boy. The director uses his barren Great Plains setting as an effective backdrop against which to raise questions about human nature and the existence of God: tough subjects, to be sure, and Nelson deserves credit for handling them intelligently and evenhandedly. Eye Of God is structurally reminiscent of Atom Egoyan's Exotica and as a whole, it has that film's detached, observant, strangely humane tone. But Nelson makes the material his own, and, in the process, creates a fractured tragedy that is one of the more auspicious debuts of recent years.
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