Christopher Walken, looking as pared-down as I've ever seen him look, gives a quirky performance as usual, as Gabriel, the angel of death who "smashes in the heads of babies while their mamas watch." This isn't a guy you want perching on your hospital bed or talking to your kids, because no matter what the message, it's not going to make you happy. And yet, Walken conveys a lot of humor in Gabriel who is seen letting school children try to blow his trumpet. One child succeeds in coaxing a note out of it and the windows of the school explode in a very funny reference to Gabriel's horn sounding the notes that herald the Apocalypse. By the end of the film, when Thomas (nice touch, that name, linking this failed priest to Thomas the Doubter.) says to Gabriel "Why didn't you just ASK God?" and Gabriel replies, "He doesn't talk to me any more." I wanted to weep for him.
Stoltz...well he's never been a favorite of mine, but he was good here; not nearly as low-key and passive as usual. His turn as the angel Simon (I thought I heard him called "Samael" once, a name which makes more sense in context.) was done with just the right amount of off-hand humor to make him a good foil for Walken. Despite his position as upholder of God's will, Simon is not a nice guy, and you get the feeling that if there had been no reason to care about humans, Simon would have disposed of them as cheerfully as Gabriel does.
Elias Koteas as Thomas and Virginia Madsen as Katherine, do well as always, but seem hampered by dialogue which occasionally thuds. The angels have all the best lines, the angels and the little girl, Mary, who does a good job with a thankless role. Amanda Plummer is given almost nothing to do as a dying...well, to be honest, a dead woman who is hijacked along the way to drive Gabriel around the Southwest in search of the soul he needs. Ms. Plummer is usually so cheerfully over-the-top that this role seemed like a sad waste of her peculiar talents. I can't help but wonder if there isn't a lot more of this film lying around someplace.
The real star turn, though, is by Viggo Mortensen as Satan - an angel both blindingly unpleasant and ravishingly seductive - once beloved above all else in Heaven. Boy, does it show. His Satan is a spoiled brat: vindictive, jealous and rude. He has no compunctions about invading personal space and wrapping himself, snakelike, around whoever he's talking to. He's unrelenting in his search for souls, and even at the end, he's not content simply to take his victory and go home.
The plot is a little thin; I have a hard time believing that the soul they were searching for was the most evil soul on earth, though there is some indication that the intention was to present the man as an incarnation of a Sin-Eater. In effect, Heywood has absorbed all the evil of his victims who in their turn absorbed all the evil of their victims and so forth.
The writing is often cumbersome and fairly shouts "B MOVIE, B MOVIE!" in spots. But I rather liked the effects; they were quirky and surprisingly low-key. There isn't much gore, yet you remember the violence because it strikes at some internal chord. The audience isn't dazzled by great light and magic shows, but it is treated to some fairly memorable images such as Satan dissolving into a flock of ravens, or a cave wall covered with angelic script which, when touched, produces something like a video of the war in heaven. Complete with a field littered with dead and dying angels and some impaled on spikes it is an echo of Heywood's war crimes in Korea. In fact, the effects are generally more painterly than cinematic, and the vast, strange landscapes are often right out of paintings by Gustave Doré, or reminiscent of Goya's works.
This is what I call a "face movie." It presents us with a lot of strange and wonderful faces, not just the usual in bland, Hollywood prettiness. They're part of the landscape, too, they give the film richness and depth that it might not have had with more conventional casting. Flawed but interesting. Worth your time.