Once again, Jim Mckay has given us a film so overflowing with humanism and cinematic care it makes Hollywood, 'Indywood,' and television look even more like the sewer of cliché' we know it to be. A film that respects it's viewers enough to avoid easy characterizations and Oprah-level morals and resolution, 'Angel Rodriguez' harkens back to that earlier era of gritty urban drama (before the Tom Cruise clone patrol strafed through Hollywood) that gave us 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore,' 'Angelo, My Love,' and 'Kramer vs. Kramer.' Like 'Kes,' Ken Loach's classic verite drama of a child's battle with the limited options, limited expectations and malignant indifference of his working class roots, and 'Small Change,' Francois Truffaut's celebration of the resilience of children, 'Angel Rodriguez' is a testament of faith in the future, and, most importantly, of the communal bond between us that extends beyond class, age, and race.
The performances are so utterly real and lacking in gloss or shtick it often feels like you're watching a documentary. Everett and Griffiths deliver the kind of subtle performances that earned Oscars for the young Jack Nicholson, Tim Hutton, or Ellen Burstyn. Especially good are Indie stalwarts O'Hare and Kellner, who shine as always but here bring an understated narcissism to their characters that wonderfully frames the raw 'big life decisions' at-risk Angel and his social worker Nicole face during a very tense--and poignant--36 hours.
If what you're looking for is a film you'll think about for weeks after you've seen it, poring over the minute gestures and moments and choices of these two very small lives, the kind of film that, like great art, stays with you, 'Angel Rodriguez' is for you. If you like to watch stuff blow-up, forget it, and if you're the kind or moralizer that likes his Right and Wrong underlined in crayon and wrapped up in a big easy resolution at the end, don't bother. Dr. Phil fans beware.