Kiss the Sky (1998)

NOTE: This film is intended for mature audiences (MPAA rating: R – Restricted for audiences under the age of 17). 

I learned about this little-known film (on Amazon) when I was searching for William Petersen’s DVDs.  He’s best known for his work on the CBS hit drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.  I saw him first in Young Guns II.  Petersen starred in Manhunter (1986); in To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), he worked with noted director Michael Mann.  Why didn’t he become a big star back then?  He turned down lead roles in Platoon, Goodfellas, and Heat so that he could be near his kids.

Jeff (William Petersen) and Marty (Gary Cole)
Jeff (William Petersen) and Marty (Gary Cole)

Jeff, an architect (Petersen) and Marty (Gary Cole), a lawyer, are lifelong friends from L.A.  They’re both going through a mid-life crisis, feeling discontent w/ their careers (though very lucrative) and marriages.  Both also have children.  “The American Dream” has left them feeling empty.  Jeff was in an institution a while back, but is now worried for Marty’s sanity.  Marty, who studied Eastern Philosophy as an undergrad, is taking anti-depressants.  Jeff decides that they should have an adventure (like in their 20s).  He convinces Marty’s wife, Beth, to let him go.

The two men head to the city of Manila in the Philippines, then eventually to a stunning secluded island.  They meet a young Australian woman, Andy (Sheryl Lee), and a Dutchman living as a Buddhist monk, Kosen (Terence Stamp).  But even in “paradise,” they can’t escape themselves or their problems! 

Don’t read more, unless you want to know more details from, and analysis of, this film.  Comments in blue come from IMDB users. 

In the opium den
In the opium den

In Manila, the men check out a manufacturing plant.  Then they party- indulging in wine, women, and… opium (whoa!)  While lying in the opium den, they hear about a very special island from an older Filipino man.  Notice how the director had them keep their heads very close together?  (Someone commented that this film is an early “bromance.”)  The two pals function more like brothers.  Jeff is charming, confident, and a fast-talker.  (His wife, Frannie, knows he’s a player.  He flirts openly with women.)  Marty is a straight-arrow; he never cheated on his wife in 20+ years.

The seduction conversation between Sheryl Lee and William Petersen has some of the best dialogue I’ve ever heard.

When Ilsa and Andy arrive at the resort, the men notice Ilsa first.  (After all, she’s Swedish and wearing a skimpy dress.)  At dinner, it’s obvious that Jeff is intrigued more by Andy.  She’s intelligent (went to Oxford and works in publishing in London), attractive (but not in a cheap/obvious fashion), and gives off that mysterious vibe.  He follows her to the night markets and they have a very interesting conversation.  Poor Marty is stuck with Ilsa, who complains all night long.

Jeff purposely guarded against falling too deeply for Andy.  He wanted to leave after their first night together because he saw in her the type of woman he could fall for.  The thing that attracted her to Jeff was his ability to detach himself.  She could see decency in him, but another part of him proved to be a challenge to her.  He tapped into that part of a woman that wants the unattainable. 

After Jeff leaves, Andy gets to know more about Marty.  He’s a good listener, unlike his buddy.  Jeff gives snappy retorts instead.  When Jeff returns, he’s surprised (and a bit angered) to know that they got together.  Then, he thinks up a solution- they can both share Andy!  She agrees to this unique arrangement, seeing it as another adventure.  The threesome frolic on the beach and swim in the gorgeous blue ocean.  Eventually, they are joined by one of her old loves, Kosen, who has been living 30 years as a Buddhist monk.  He’s composed, wise, yet humble.

This film showed how women gravitate towards Alpha males like Jeff, while though she had affection for Marty, she wasn’t drawn to him the same way…  it really rang true to me regarding relationships between men and women, expectations, how we communicate (or don’t communicate).

Jeff smiles on the beach
Jeff smiles on the beach

Jeff gets an idea to build a type of getaway on the island- a haven where people can just be themselves.  They decide to cut ties with their families; Marty provides the cash ($200,000).  The local people think this is a crazy idea, but they work on it for one month.  Frannie (Patricia Charbonneau) air mails an order of separation to Jeff.  He’s quite affected to see the letters and photos of his two daughters.

Andy gets very hurt/angry after Jeff has a one-night stand with a Filipino photographer.  In the pivotal scene, Andy and Jeff have a huge falling out.  By this point, we know that Marty has fallen in love with Andy.  But she’s in love with Jeff!  Andy didn’t want to get so deeply involved, she admits in tears.  She goes back to London. 

We have to wonder: Did Jeff truly love Andy?  Andy is only 29 and has much more of life to live; she’s not in the same situation as these middle-aged men (w/ a lot of baggage).  Neither of them would’ve been right for her, anyway.

The monsoons come early- everything comes crashing down!  Jeff, who’s been living at the construction site, is devastated.  Then, he makes a decision that will surprise the audience.

Jeff hugs Marty goodbye
Jeff hugs Marty goodbye

The character of Jeff, who never finishes anything, always full of doubts, is very human.

I was surprised to see that Marty was the one who went with Kosen to the monastery.  He walked away from his family, just as Buddha did as a young prince.  Cole proved that he’s not just a one-note actor, like in some of his other films.  Jeff chose to go back to his family, but the last scene showed that he was always going to be conflicted about wanting something different.  Jeff was a multi-faceted character, not a clichéd jerk.  Petersen’s acting is subtle, but it draws the viewer in!

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