Angels In America Mike Nichols

Fans of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels In America need not worry: this all-star adaptation is even better than what could be imagined of Kushner's two-part epic. It's 1985 and the AIDS epidemic is ravaging the country. Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) tells his boyfriend Louis (Ben Shenkman) that he's sick and Louis bolts in a panic. Meanwhile, two powerful politicos — the up-and-coming District Attorney Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson), both a Mormon and a Republican, and once-powerhouse attorney Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) — are both in the closet for political reasons. As Cohn faces his death by AIDS, cared for by an acutely politicised nurse (Jeffrey Wright), he is haunted by visions of his past, particularly his persecution of Communist sympathiser Ethen Rosenberg (Meryl Streep, who takes on several roles). The distraught Louis takes up with Joe Pitt, while Pitt's Valium-addicted wife Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) goes on her own vision quest in search of enlightenment. Oh yeah, and an angel appears to Prior, in the form of Emma Thompson, to inform him that he is fated to be a prophet and lead the world into a new age of enlightenment. Angels In America is a huge, ambitious, wondrous undertaking, and Mike Nichols tackles the challenge with verve. Working from Kushner's screenplay, he balances the harshly realistic with the fantastical in ways that theatre can hint at but that film can bring to vibrant life — or overplayed death, depending on the execution. Here, the execution is flawless on every level. Pacino, Streep and Thompson do career-defining work, but the trio of relative unknowns (Kirk, Shenkman and Wilson) in key roles are the foundation that anchors these flights of fancy. On DVD, the show is divided into the six chapters of the mini-series, but there are no extras in the otherwise attractive package. To hell with a promotion department "making of," this is one film sure to benefit from an intelligent and considered commentary. But perhaps this lack is entirely conscious — by simply sitting with and absorbing this amazing piece of art at your own pace, all its secrets will be revealed. (HBO/Warner)