Murder And Religion In Bible Belt

FRIDAY, DEC. 12, 1997

Does God smile on Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain? Let’s examine the evidence: Mickey Mantle, Will Rogers and J.J. Cale; 168 dead in a terrorist bombing and the banning of “The Tin Drum.” The question seems open to debate.

Debuting writer/director Tim Blake Nelson seems convinced that the place suffers from deity deprivation, judging by “Eye of God,” a dark little tale that borrows the Genesis story of Abraham and Isaac as its opening conceit but really deserves something out of Revelation. Murder. Madness. Fundamentalist hysteria. And a strain of apocalyptic malevolence running throughout that occasionally blossoms into real tension.

On the other hand, there’s so much flashing (back and forth, forth and back) that the movie should be wearing a raincoat. Time here is a very, very flexible thing, so much so that just keeping track of when and where you are is enough to keep you from noticing how slim the story is. We encounter young Tom Spencer (Nick Stahl) as a happy kid watching TV, then in a post-traumatic catatonia, then as a vaguely unhappy kid, very quickly and without enough immediate detail to establish what’s happening when. It’s not an ineffective technique; when Atom Egoyan does it in the upcoming “Sweet Hereafter,” it works both dramatically and logically. It just doesn’t quite work here.

The acting is uniformly fine, and Nelson exhibits terrific control over the sequence that closes the film. Getting there, however, involves transversing a too-belabored and confusing series of plot pieces, stacked in a rather mad manner. Without the narrative trickery, on the other hand, the story is exposed as a fairly predictable bit of business. xxxx “Eye Of God” Location: Lincoln Heights Cinemas Credits: Written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, starring Martha Plimpton, Kevin Anderson, Hal Holbrook, Nick Stahl, Richard Jenkins, Maggie Moore, Mary Kay Place Running time: 1:24 Rating: Unrated

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