Starring: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce
Director: Rupert Wainwright
Stigmata: Marks or sores corresponding to and resembling the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, sometimes occurring during religious ecstasy or hysteria.
There you go – just to get that out of the way prior to the review.
Frankie Paige (Arquette – “True Romance”, “Beyond Rangoon”, “Flirting With Disaster”) is a hard-living tearaway in Pittsburgh (where it seems to rain every day!). Her relentless life is turned upside down as she becomes afflicted with horrendous wounds resembling stigmata. The Vatican’s premier scientific investigator, Father Andrew Kiernan (Byrne – “Enemy of the State”, “Usual Suspects”), is summoned to investigate the case but finds his progress hindered by Cardinal Daniel Houseman (Pryce – “Ronin”, “Tomorrow Never Dies”, “Evita”, “Carrington”, “Glengary Glen Ross”) and his vocation challenged by the feelings he develops for Frankie. It soon becomes clear to Kiernan that a cover up exists and he must find out why before it’s too late for Frankie.
“Stigmata” has all the necessary tools to be a very successful study of the cornerstone of Christian religious beliefs, but in practice comes across as a laborious and drawn-out experience based on a standard tale of conspiracy that we’ve seen all too often in the cinema. The opening scenes of Father Kiernan visiting an isolated Catholic church in Brazil set an eerie and deeply spiritual tone when a statue of the Madonna are shown to be crying tears of blood after the death of local priest, Father Dario. When Kiernan reports this to Houseman, he is surprised to see it brushed under the carpet, and quickly given a new assignment, to quash the media furore surrounding the appearance of stigmata on Frankie Paige.
The movie is quite well paced, in that we don’t see an explosion of the rather disturbing stigmata-inflicting scenes at the beginning followed by 90 mins of dialogue. Frankie is plagued throughout and the malaise she suffers is regular enough to keep up interest throughout, and allows for some very stylishly directed shots of her agony in such places as a train and a nightclub.
The lead performances from Arquette and Byrne are excellent, with the extrememly attractive Arquette proving that her earlier success in hits like “True Romance” and “Lost Highway” were no fluke. Byrne too does a superb job of playing the handsome but doubting priest who is beginning the question his motivation and his vocation, especially when he sees the work he does disregarded by a hierarchy who are more interested in protecting their own interests than uncovering the truth about religious history.
Director Rupert Wainwright doesn’t do very much wrong and shows plenty of promise with the style and atmosphere he exudes here (reminiscent of David Fincher’s “Seven”). Essentially he is let down by the paper thin story which obviously looked better on paper than on celluloid. An interesting, but fundementally flawed effort.