HEAVEN *** 1/2
STARRING: Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi
DIRECTOR: Tom Tykwer
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
RATING: R for violence and some sex
THE LOWDOWN: A terrorist and an Italian policeman go on the lam.
Tom Tykwer's "Heaven" begins brilliantly with a ticking terrorist's bomb that goes off and takes all the wrong people with it.
It ends with an image of flight - one of the most beautiful and poetically satisfying endings I've seen in quite some time. You'll just have to see it in context. It's as if, at the end, metaphysics had triumphed over morality and law both.
What happens in the middle is guilt, investigation and lamming out. This is a criminals-on-the-lam film with moral questions larger than just "will they get away with it?" It's a pursuit movie, then, with some meat on its bones.
Cate Blanchett plays an English teacher in Turin, Italy, who sets a ticking bomb in a man's office. When the cleaning ladies unwittingly carry it away, it goes off - horribly - killing them as well as a man and his children.
Despite the bomber's deep conviction of the justice of her cause (it's quite personal and understandable, if horrifically skewed), there is no way she can square the terrible accidental deaths with what she intended to do.
We are, then, in the first 15 minutes of the movie, trying to wend our way through the moral thickets of terrorism, the No. 1 subject of our times. This is a brilliant performance by Blanchett who is, in her far less obtrusive way, as virtuosically versatile an actress as Meryl Streep used to be.
The teacher is caught. The Turin carabinieri bear down, interrogating her. The police translator is a hangdog Italian cop played by American actor Giovanni Ribisi.
He translates her words back to his superiors - often just a little off so that his fellow carabinieri can't hear the defiance in them, or the nihilism or despair, either.
Clearly he is smitten with her. Eventually, it's even clearer that it's love.
He helps her escape. What begins as an anguished meditation on moral responsibility and revenge becomes a love idyll as the young couple goes on the lam and faces the consequences of their feelings.
Such love idylls on the lam have been part of movies from the beginning.
It's suspenseful when it needs to be and beautifully made throughout. At this stage, I'm not sure Tykwer can make a bad film. Certainly, he can't from a technical standpoint.
What's fascinating about "Heaven" is that it was written by the great Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski, who fully intended to direct it himself and would have if he hadn't died. When Tykwer picked up the project, then, we have that fascinating and rare situation where two exceptional directorial intelligences have mated to make a film.
Unlike Spielberg's "A.I.," which was bequeathed to him by Stanley Kubrick before his death, Tykwer has to find what in his own elegant, kinetic talent corresponds to Kieslowski's.
All of which is perhaps an unnecessarily fancy way of saying that two of the great cinematic minds in Europe are collaborating from beyond the grave on a small elegant movie about love and justice.
In its own rather unassuming way, it's not a great film but it's still quite something.