Angel of Death (2009)

vt Ed Brubaker’s Angel of Death
US / 75 minutes / color / White Rock Lake Dir: Paul Etheredge Pr: John Norris, Paul Etheredge Scr: Ed Brubaker Cine: Carl Herse Cast: Zoë Bell, Jake Abel, Vail Bloom, Justin Huen, Doug Jones, Lucy Lawless, Brian Poth, John Serge, Ingrid Rogers, Pat Asanti, Ted Raimi, Kaela Crawford.

Ed Brubaker, who devised and wrote this slice of hyperviolent borderline noir—I’d be tempted to call it grindhouse but it seems too highly polished for that—is one of the giants of the comix/graphic novels world, a multiple Eisner Award winner. All of which meant I, um, had to look him up in Wikipedia. (I’ve heard of Eisner, though, and actually met him briefly at a con years ago. I diligently made sure the conversation didn’t stray into the realm of comix because, er . . .)

Zoë Bell as Eve.

Anyway, Eve (Bell) is a highly prolific, highly regarded hitwoman, working in LA under the auspices of her agent and lover Graham Prescott (Poth). Her latest hit gets out of control, and part of the collateral damage is the victim’s 14-year-old daughter, Marie Anderton (Crawford). Moreover, during the shambles Eve herself is stabbed in the brain.

Doug Jones as Dr. Rankin.

Friendly junkie physician Dr. Rankin (Jones) extracts the knife and tells her that, if she’s survived this long, she might live to laugh at the experience. To Prescott he’s less sanguine about her chances: 

Rankin: “Fact is, if she does start having seizures, I hope she’s set aside some cash. I don’t think her employers have a retirement plan, do they?”
Prescott: “Not the kind you mean.”

Eve (Zoë Bell) has received a grievous head injury.

There are indeed psychological consequences, but not the type that anyone foresaw. Marie’s ghost starts appearing to the hitwoman, and Eve concludes that the only way she’ll ever be able to deliver herself from the haunting is by killing off the bad guys who were ultimately responsible for Marie’s death.

Brian Poth as Graham Prescott.

Oddly enough, that doesn’t include Prescott, but it does include the mobster who commissioned the hit on Marie’s dad, Arthur Max (Serge), and the people behind him, most notably sadistic psycho Cameron Downes (Abel), the heir-apparent to the Downes mob family. What Eve fails to spot is that Cameron isn’t the true psycho in the family; that’d be his sister Regina (Bloom) . . .

Justin Huen as Franklin.

Huen, who reminds me of the young Anthony LaPaglia, contributes a good turn as Eve’s not entirely competent sidekick Franklin, Asanti has a small but wonderful role as mob boss Carey Lyman, and Lawless is great—and hugely likeable—as Eve’s “reborn” neighbor Vera. Rogers is tremendous as the hot FBI agent, Dani Taylor, to whom Prescott hopes to sell out his employees.

Jake Abel as Cameron Downes.

Lucy Lawless as Vera.

The cinematography makes liberal use of techniques like split-screen and color distortion, and at first I thought this aspect was all very The THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1968); more likely, though, it’s in reference to Brubaker’s comix antecedents—see the screengrab below for an example of what I mean.

Angel of Death has quite an embroidered narrative for a movie this short—for example, using flashbacks to enhance characterization and define motivations rather than, as is so often the modern fashion, leaving it for the viewer to fill in the gaps. And yet the tale manages never to seem crowded, moving ahead pacily while finding time too for some extended, excellently choreographed fight scenes and even some elements of near-slapstick—as with the setting of a gang-boss funeral wake in a strip club.

Ingrid Rogers as Agent Danielle Taylor.

Vail Bloom as Regina Downes.

As noted the movie’s extraordinarily violent. Yet it lacks the other characteristics of so many of its peers: there’s some swearing, but not a huge amount; there’s no nudity; there’s not even a sex scene. Abel’s tremendously convincing as the psycho who likes nothing better than carving people up with his straightedge razor; Bloom makes an even better psycho as Cameron’s sister, because her outward mien is so wholesome.

8 thoughts on “Angel of Death (2009)

  1. Brubaker’s graphic novel ‘The Fade Out’, which is set in 1948, is great, and quite noir in story, tone & visuals. And no superheroes 🙂

    This movie sounds interesting, added it to the ever-expanding watchlist. Thanks for another excellent write-up!

    • Thanks for the tip. I’m shamefully ignorant about comix/graphic novels, especially since I’ve had some very good friends who’re deeply involved in the business. I once tried writing a comix adaptation of my novel The Far-Enough Window, but it soon became evident that the artist was far more competent to do the adaptation than I was, so I left him to it. The shame! The shame! The artist being better at the words bit! (The project never saw the light of day, alas.)

  2. This one began life as a web-series, in relatively short episodes, on the Sony-purchased service Crackle. I suspect not too much was trimmed out, but perhaps enough to make it feel denser in context…

    • Thanks for that extra info, Todd: it had passed me by. It might explain why there was the occasional moment during the movie that rang a bell: I nosed around on Crackle for a while years ago but I kept having trouble with their player, so abandoned the site. Perhaps I browsed through an episode or two of the serial, then of course forgot about it as the years passed.

      Or perhaps it was just deja vu . . .

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