EX-COPS can’t leave crime alone, so when a plane-load of illegal immigrants lands nose-first in his Louisiana backyard, ex-cop and recovering alcoholic Dave Robicheaux (Alec Baldwin) jumps feet first back into the bad old times as he seeks to find out why it happened.
Add the fact that he rescued the stricken plane’s sole survivor, a little girl, who he and his wife Annie (Kelly Lynch) quietly adopt, and Dave finds himself embroiled in a mystery which his detective’s past won’t allow him to ignore.
Though it purports to be a straight thriller (based on the cult novel by James Lee Burke), Heaven’s Prisoners (2hrs 12mins) is really Robicheaux’s odyssey, a tale of weakness, personal choices and the destruction of his ordered life as he descends into his own heart of darkness.
The plotline is strangely thin: unable to stand back and allow events to take their course, Robicheaux finds himself inexorably drawn into the fray. Pretty soon he’s mixing it with the local Bayou bad guys and renewing his acquaintance with Bubba Rocque (Eric Roberts), a former schooldays chum and now New Orleans crime lord.
Director Phil (State of Grace) Joanou packs bags of atmosphere into this violent and steamy tale, ably presenting New Orleans, with its rainy nights, bayous and teeming streets, as one of the film’s strongest characters.
The central characters, however, with the exception of Robicheaux, are too slimly drawn. Roberts, as the villain undermined from within, and Lynch, as the home-loving wife, are merely cyphers, while Mary Stuart Masterson, playing a tart with a heart, seems to have strayed from a different film.
Aside from Baldwin, who provides the core of the story, the best performance comes from Teri Hatcher, alias TV’s Lois Lane, as the sluttish Cajun wife of Roberts’ Mr Big. Allegedly the most downloaded image on the Internet, Hatcher gives her fans something to remember with a full-frontal (and quite unnecessary) flash of flesh, which adds a definite physical edge to her startling change of pace.
The original story’s strong sense of morality, self-discovery and unstoppable decline is not entirely clear in the final movie. Too many inadequately presented characters and a sometimes messy (and baggy) plot means Baldwin is sometimes left rattling around on his own.
Still, Baldwin is believable and effective as the drunken bruiser torn between the quiet life and the wrong side of the tracks. His scenes with Roberts, though hackneyed, are well-acted, and the two have a reasonable chemistry which is lacking between the other stars.
Heaven’s Prisoners is too long and too woolly to be a truly captivating thriller, but Baldwin gives his all, proving, like brother Stephen, that the Baldwin clan is not just a collection of pretty faces and hairy chests.