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Angels in America

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Updated February 23, 2008

Angels in America
Tony Kushner's prize-winning play Angels in America became the defining theatrical event of the 1990s, an astonishing mix of philosophy, politics, and vibrant gay soap opera that summed up the Reagan era for an entire generation of theater-goers. This 2003 HBO adaptation provides a time capsule of the '80s and reveals the deep emotional subcurrents that will give the play lasting power.

The Story

The story centers around Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) and Louis Ironson (Ben Shenkman), a gay couple that falls apart when Prior grows ill as a result of AIDS. But AIDS is not the only thing invading Prior's life: He begins to have religious visions of an angel (Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility) announcing that he is a prophet. Louis, who doesn't cope well with disease and suggestions of mortality, leaves and starts a relationship with Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson), a closeted Mormon who works for Roy Cohn (Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon)--the real-life right-wing lawyer, notorious for his ruthless behind-the-scenes machinations. Add in Joe's depressed and hallucinating wife Harper (Mary Louise Parker, Fried Green Tomatoes), his determined but open-minded mother Hannah (Meryl Streep, Adaptation), a fierce drag queen/nurse named Belize (Jeffrey Wright, Basquiat), and you've still only begun to discover the wealth of characters and storylines in Kushner's ambitious work.

The Cast

  • Al Pacino ... Roy Marcus Cohn
  • Meryl Streep ... Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz/Hannah Porter Pitt/Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg/The Angel Australia
  • Emma Thompson ... The Angel of America/Nurse Emily/Homeless Woman
  • Justin Kirk ... Prior Walter/The Man in the Park
  • Ben Shenkman ... Louis Ironson/The Angel Europa
  • Mary-Louise Parker ... Harper Amaty Pitt
  • Jeffrey Wright ... Norman 'Belize' Arriaga/Mr. Lies/The Angel Antarctica
  • Patrick Wilson ... Joseph Porter 'Joe' Pitt
  • James Cromwell ... Henry
  • Michael Gambon ... Prior Walter Ancestor #1
  • Simon Callow ... Prior Walter Ancestor #2
  • Brian Markinson ... Martin Heller
  • Robin Weigert ... Mormon Mother
  • Kevin 'Flotilla DeBarge' Joseph ... Singer in Church
  • Florence Kastriner ... Louis's Mother
  • Howard Pinhasik ... Louis's Father
  • David Zayas ... Super
  • Sterling Brown ... Orderly
  • Shawn Bartels ... Mennonite Choir Member

Available in DVD - Release Date September 14, 2003

What Others Have Said

"I just watched this on DVD, and all I can say is "Bravo." Amazing that something this superb actually appeared on TV first. The acting was incredible and the story imaginiative and compelling. I am a straight white woman (jsut for the record, as I noticed some reviewers think that only gay men will be interested in this)and having worked in healthcare during the 80s, this is right on target. And for those who think this is uncalled for Republican bashing, well, in 1985, 25,000 people had already died of AIDS and the Reagan administration was trying to pretend that it didn't exist. In fact, it was over five years after the first published reports of AIDS appeared, that Reagan actually made a public statement about it. By the time the govt really acted, AIDS had spread into far and wide, way beyond the gay community. But because in the early days, it was restricted to gay men and IV drug users, the conservatives Republicans in power looked at AIDS as a "moral" issue. So now, is there any reason to wonder why there was so much Republican bashing in this movie? You have to look at things in their historical context."
- Justine Cardello (Nice, France)

One More Review

"After the first episode I wondered, "Is this going to be six sad hours of people dying but still fighting their romantic battles, some of them venomous, until they're finally put to rest?" But despite these worries, I found myself absorbed by the characters, and after the second episode, I was smitten with the writing, the actors, the characterizations, the ambition and beauty and sheer genius of Tony Kushner's play. By the final episode, I was extremely moved and more hopeful than sad--I had spent six hours watching these characters and so felt very invested in their stories--wanting at least another six hours with them. Nichols, his cast and the monumental Kushner have made a work of difficult beauty--the scope of this film as impressive as any grand novel, as any other grand movie (Lawrence of Arabia? Schindler's List? both with the same power as Angels to draw one into an era of spiritual despair without scaring off most of their viewers) or perhaps even a grand life. Among the cast members, Justin Kirk as Prior Walter was my favorite--his charm and tragedy and occasional hilarity made him a particularly stunning character."
- C. M. Sneed (Chicago)

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