Angel of Mine
Noomi Rapace and Yvonne Strahovski make a formidable duo in this Melbourne-shot psychological thriller.
Never underestimate the importance of casting, or its influence. When a famous name barely appears at the beginning of a film, you can bet they'll turn up again later. When someone notable doesn't seem to have all that much to do, they'll likely become not just noticeable, but crucial. And when two actors best known for recent memorable roles are cast opposite each other, bringing some baggage with them might just be part of the plan. The latter proves the case with Angel of Mine, which pits The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Lisbeth Salander against The Handmaid's Tale's Serena Joy. Kim Farrant's film isn't related to either the Swedish crime franchise or the huge dystopian TV hit, so that's not what literally happens— however with Noomi Rapace playing an unstable woman called Lisbeth, and Yvonne Strahovski portraying someone fighting for her family, the obvious springs to mind.
Such comparisons aren't to Angel of Mine's detriment. While the Melbourne-shot movie is actually an English-language remake of 2008 French picture L'Empreinte de L'Ange, which is based on a wild true tale, both stars remain in their element. Rapace's career hasn't ever soared beyond the heights of her Dragon Tattoo days, but she's always been at her best playing complicated characters who are driven to exorcise their internal demons. Strahovski's fame took off when she became a resident of Gilead, and grappling with the complexities of womanhood and motherhood definitely suits her. Unsurprisingly, the two make a formidable duo, which is exactly what the story calls for. Adapted into English by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Luke Davies (Lion) and seasoned TV scribe David Regal (Rugrats), the psychological thriller not only unravels the ties that bind women and their children, but also explores how societal expectations can be a stumbling block for the fairer sex.
When Angel of Mine introduces Rapace's Lizzie Manning, she's hardly anyone's ideal mum. Still grieving the loss of her infant daughter, she's separated from her husband Mike (Luke Evans) and shares custody of the primary school-aged Thomas (Finn Little), although her son would rather spend all of his time with his father. Things don't improve when, following a birthday party for one of Thomas' friends, Lizzie becomes obsessed with seven-year-old Lola (Annika Whiteley). Haunted by the girl, who looks just like her own daughter might if she had survived, Lizzie tries to befriend Lola's well-off parents (Strahovski, as well as Richard Roxburgh) to immerse herself in their lives.
Just a few decades ago, the thriller genre was filled with tales about feverish fixations: by one-night stands (Fatal Attraction), vengeful nannies (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) and over-enthusiastic friends (Single White Female), to name a few examples. Angel of Mine fits the same mould, to a point. Just how it deviates from that trend is part of the film's twists and turns, and therefore best discovered by watching — but as she demonstrated with her debut movie Strangerland, Farrant doesn't trade in standard narratives. Instead, the Australian filmmaker is fascinated by women's reactions to traumatic situations, how the world wants them to act during their most upsetting moments, and what happens when they stick to their guns. While saying anything more about the storyline is saying too much, how this idea ties into Angel of Mine proves one of its strongest elements.
That said, the movie's ending is saddled with a hard task. Before its revelatory finale, the film sometimes struggles, relying so heavily on its leading ladies that it can miss the mark elsewhere. There's an uneasy air about Angel of Mine, which is wholly by design, however there's a difference between framing that's purposefully tense and unsettling, and scenes that become clumsy rather than disquieting. Still, given that Rapace and Strahovski turn in such stellar performances, no one can blame Farrant for pushing the pair, the characters' thorny friendship and their differing responses to a difficult situation firmly to the fore.