In "Heaven's Prisoners," Alec Baldwin seems to be in mourning throughout the film. In fact, the movie itself seems to be in mourning, with Phil Joanou's direction aiming for gloomy atmosphere that is perhaps too solemn, even glum at times. But it's also a straight-ahead, matter-of-fact approach, and in that regard it serves the characters and story fairly well.
The real problem is that the film goes on forever, and its 2-hour, 15-minute length is a genuine disservice.
Though his accent is uneasy, Baldwin (with a small swatch of white hair) generally fills the bill quite well as Dave Robicheaux, a recovering alcoholic and former New Orleans police detective who is still brooding about having to shoot some criminal types three years earlier.
Dave and his wife Annie (Kelly Lynch) now live a quiet life in the Louisiana bayou, but, of course, there's trouble ahead. It begins when they witness a plane crash in the Gulf and Dave risks his life to rescue the lone survivor, a young child — who proves to be an illegal immigrant from El Salvador.
Dave and Annie, unable to have children of their own, take the little girl in, and Dave tries to uncover information about the crash. This private investigation leads to run-ins with a DEA agent (Vondie Curtis Hall), a stripper/hooker (Mary Stuart Masterson) who is an old friend of Dave's, a local thug (Eric Roberts) who is Dave's old high school buddy (Eric Roberts) and the thug's wife (Teri Hatcher), a dangerous vixen. And there are various other nefarious types hanging around from time to time.
It's a colorful array of characters, each played with conviction, though they fulfill the obvious stereotypes found in dark detective thrillers like this. And the casting-against-type of Lynch as a dutiful wife and Masterson as a hard-drinking prostitute is an entertaining conceit.
The screenplay by Harley Pey-ton ("Less Than Zero") and Scott Frank ("Get Shorty"), based on James Lee Burke's novel, is clever, plotted well and contains some crackling dialogue (though it could have used more). But there are also some silly bits of business — especially the running gag about Hatcher's character carrying a thermos of gin everywhere she goes and refusing to use a coaster when she sets it down.
But at the film's length and with so many sequences that simply have Baldwin blankly agonizing as he stare into space, the narrative becomes plodding in places.
Still, it's certainly a more thoughtful detective thriller than we usually get these days, with the violence and profanity a bit more tempered than you might expect (though it's still in the R-rated arena).
And, yes, Teri Hatcher's character is introduced nude on a balcony (with a butterfly tattoo on her stomach), just as so many advance stories on this film have promised — and it's ridiculously gratuitous.
"Heaven's Prisoners" is rated R for violence, nudity, profanity and drug abuse.