Maddy Bennett and James Neubauer form an unlikely friendship after he starts helping her with repairs.
As A Rumor of Angels opens, it is evening in a small New England coastal town, and we see twelve year old James Neubauer (Trevor Morgan) running around the property of Maddy Bennett (Vanessa Redgrave). He is playing some sort of spy game, but isn’t very sucessful as the resourceful and independent Maddy discovers him and comes out with a shotgun firing buckshot at trespasser James. Pannicked, James runs away as fast as he can, breaking part of her fence in the process as he grabs his bicycle. On his way home, James comes to an old bridge blocked off with closed signs, where he suddenly freezes in place, having a traumatic flashback of the death of his mother, who was killed in an automobile accident at this site two years before. Luckily for James, his Uncle Charlie (Ron Livingston), who was searching for him in his pickup truck, arrives to take him home, just as we see the sillouette of Maddy lurking in the background. Charlie, who is a free spirited handyman and James’ deceased mother’s brother, has been pretty much his only family lately. James’ father Nathan (Ray Liotta) spends most of his time out of town on business, and has little time for James, especially since he has remarried. James doesn’t get along with his new stepmother Mary (Catherine McCormack), who he resents for wanting to take over as his mother and taking his father’s attention away from him and the memory of his mother.
James tries to show his father and step mother what he has learned about classical music from Maddy.
The next morning, Maddy stops by the Neubauer house and demands that James fix her fence. When Charlie says that he will fix it, Maddy insists that James must be the person to fix her fence because he broke it. Although he is frightened by Maddy, and doesn’t want to go, Charlie tells him that it will be all right, and the two of them go back to Maddy’s weather-beaten house to begin work. At first, their relationship is frosty and distant, as Maddy is stubborn and determined to get her way, telling James in no uncertain terms that he had better not treat her the way he does Mary and Charlie. But at the same time, Maddy begins to recognize that there is a kinship between the two of them, because they have suffered similar traumatic losses (Maddy’s only son was killed in the Viet Nam war). Gradually a friendship between the two begins to form, and Maddy insists on hiring James to paint her entire fence, when Mary wants James to do something else. Maddy becomes the first adult that James can really open up to since his mother’s death, and soon the two are experiencing the joys of classical music and the New England summer together. Maddy becomes more of a surrogate grandmother to James when eventually she makes him confront his suppressed fears, grieving, and guilt over the death of his mother. Their discussion of matters of life and death become even more serious when Maddy reveals her own innermost secret: she continued to communicate with her son after his death through messages in Morse Code, which she wrote down in a journal. When Maddy shows James how to communicate in Morse Code and gives him the journal to read, he is mesmorized and given hope that he can somehow communicate with his mother. But he falls asleep at home while starting to read the journal, and it is discovered by Mary and Nathan, who are very concerned that Maddy is filling James with nonsense, and tell Maddy to break off their relationship. Later, fate does intervene in this film, and how the relationships betweens James, his family and Maddy are resolved make up the balance of the film plot.
James and Maddy search for treasures on the beach.
A Rumor of Angels almost seems to be mis-titled, because there is no discussion of religion or afterlife in the film. Yet at the same time the film extensively covers the subject of death and dying, its effect on the living, and the idea that you can communicate after death. The film has its own sense of hope and spirituality; whether or not you buy in would most likely be due to what your personal beliefs are. Although it ultimately deals with the fear of death and dying, one primary message is that actually listening to what living people have to say is much more important in one’s daily existence. A Rumor of Angels gently reminds us of the importance of grandparents or seniors in the development of our youth. Sometimes it takes a generation gap to facilitate communication. Another strength of the film has to do with how it explores relationships, and this focus is greatly helped with strong performances by both Vanessa Redgrave and Trevor Morgan. Redgrave proves that she is a master of the medium, projecting a strong, quirky, yet believable character without the benefits of fancy makeup or costuming. Her on-screen presence is commanding, but she doesn’t try to overpower the action. As the film progresses we see more and more of her human side, which enhances her performance and completes her characterization. Trevor Morgan is equally strong as the troubled and lonely twelve year old full of contradictions. Sometimes he is sympathetic, other times obnoxious and bratty, but always compelling. He shows great emotional depth especially in the scene where he finally confronts his father about why there was no real period of family grieving when his mother died. “You never want to talk about her. Mom died while I was holding her, and never once did you ask what that was like.” The other actors are well cast, and Ray Liotta, Catherine McCormack, Ron Livingstone, and George Coe each have their moments in the film. A Rumor of Angels doesn’t explore new territory, but writer/director Peter O’Fallon uses its palette of simple story line, beautiful cinematography, good musical score, and powerful acting in an effective and touching manner.
James and Maddy sit down beside a fast flowing stream.
James kicking back in his house.
Trevor Morgan in his role as James wears black high top chucks throughout most of the film. Mostly you see them in wide panorama shots or cover shots showing the entire movie set. The best chucks scene is toward the end of the film, when James is waiting for a sign from Maddy.
James examines the medallion that he received from Maddy.
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