‘Stigmata’ a big screen spectacle

Greg Jerrett

In the category of “This Week’s Millennial Thriller,” we have a tasty little treat called “Stigmata.” This gem stars the beautiful and talented Patricia Arquette (“Lost Highway,” “Ed Wood”) as Frankie Paige, atheist, stigmatic and unwitting spiritual medium, plus the beautiful and talented Gabriel Byrne (“Point of No Return,” “The Usual Suspects”) as Father Andrew Kiernan.

Kiernan is a scientist and investigator for the Vatican. It is his job to travel around the world documenting miracles, exposing hoaxes and interviewing stigmatics.

He makes an early appearance at a church in Brazil where the popular and particularly pious Father Pablo Alameida has been murdered. The statue of the Virgin Mary is crying blood and Kiernan wants answers.

Unfortunately, he is being derailed by Cardinal Daniel Housman, played by the not-so-lovely but superbly talented Jonathan Pryce (“Brazil,” “Tomorrow Never Dies”), for reasons unknown.

Housman unwittingly sends Kiernan on the right path while trying to divert him to New York to investigate Frankie’s case instead.

Frankie is just a hairdresser who likes to party. When her mother makes the mistake of sending her the rosary of Father Alameida, Frankie begins to show signs of possession and bears the stigmata (marks on the wrists).

Kiernan is less than convinced that Frankie’s case is genuine, since as an atheist, she is an unlikely candidate for a condition that requires devout faith.

He sticks it out for a few scenes until he witnesses a major soul explosion in an alley in which Frankie quotes a passage supposedly written by Jesus himself.

The film is a treat for the eyes; of that there is no doubt.

It was written and directed by Tom Lazarus, who in 1982 did this horrible “Mazes and Monsters” made-for-TV movie that was nothing but the most banal, uneducated propaganda about Dungeon and Dragons. It was horribly written and campy.

He has no writing or directing credits for 14 years after that, so perhaps he spent that time honing his craft a bit.

Lucky for us, too, because in spite of his previous efforts, this film is actually entertaining to watch. The plot is a bit simple: Minor political intrigue dressed up as a major religious schism in the works.

Patricia Arquette is a mystery. It’s hard to tell with this woman if she is a talented actress who has found her niche playing bimbos or if she is a bimbo who plays the parts she deserves.

In some of her more violent scenes, wherein she does a lot of eye-rolling and spewing in Spanish, Italian and Aramaic, she is quite compelling. She tosses, screams and bleeds like a pro.

It’s just when she’s talking normally that you have to wonder how she got the part. Apparently, the family name still goes a long way.

The jury is still out on this lady, but this reviewer will continue to watch.

Gabriel Byrne — what can anyone say about this guy? Except for the occasional dog, such as “Point of No Return” and “Cool World,” he’s pure gold, and “Stigmata” is no exception. His character is torn between his scientific interests and his love of the church.

Even when Frankie is shaking her stuff in front of him and trying to get him to compromise himself, you really buy that that this guy could resist with only the most minor of indiscretions.

One scene weakens this film and it is of Frankie and Kiernan frolicking in a cafe surrounded by flowers. They get a little flirty, and then Frankie starts bleeding from two puncture wounds through her feet. It was just plain weird to see these two silently playing with each other while the music gets all syrupy, before Frankie flies into a bed of daisies, bleeding profusely.

Jonathan Pryce could have been on screen twice as long. This is one compelling actor, and his performance as the very protective Cardinal Housman could have used some more time to simmer. He is willing to commit murder to keep the church as it is, and a character like that has depth you can’t gauge with sonar, baby. To relegate him to maybe 20 minutes of screen time is a disservice to the audience.

Overall, this film is a compelling couple of hours full of brilliant colors and spectacle. The acting is underplayed but above average. The director could have focused on better subjects, but his portrayal of religious ecstasy was top notch, if a bit creepy. The writing was above average and only a bit corny.

Not too bad at all if you want something more intellectual than an action flick to see with that special someone, like a priest.


Greg Jerrett is a graduate student in English from Council Bluffs.