Ordinary Angels is a true story and a remarkable one at that. Living with our two-year old granddaughter has made me especially vulnerable to dramas about young children in peril, and it didn’t take long for this one to open my tear ducts. 

Alan Ritchson (who stars on Reacher) plays a working stiff who lives in the shadow of his wife’s death five years ago. When his youngest daughter’s liver disease worsens he doesn’t know where to turn. He’s lucky to have his mother (Nancy Travis) on hand to help raise his kids, but he’s stone broke and deep in debt. Out of nowhere a good Samaritan (Hilary Swank) pops into his life, having used her hair salon as a fund-raising headquarters, and hands him a check for $3,000. But out of pride or stubbornness he isn’t prepared to let her be his savior when the skies darken even further.

He doesn’t reckon with Swank’s determination and has no way of knowing that for all her smarts she has demons of her own to contend with. Fixating on the salvation of an innocent five-year-old girl sets her on a positive path and she drags Ritchson along, kicking and screaming.

The culmination of this straightforward true-life tearjerker is a race to a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska where a donor’s liver holds the promise of saving the little girl’s life. The film spares us nothing as it dramatizes how one roadblock after another stands in the way of a happy ending.

Apparently this saga is well known to residents of Louisville, Kentucky who put everything aside on a snowy day in January of 1994 to help bring this incident to a satisfying conclusion. It’s about the power of community, and as corny as that sounds, the film is rooted in a story that is as amazing as it is true.

Ritchson is completely credible as the father, who’s taken a beating at the hands of fate. Swank is rock-solid as the woman who knows how to cajole people to say yes to audacious requests because they have to admit to themselves that it’s the right thing to do. She persists until they see this for themselves. It’s a perfect part for Swank and it’s nice to see her where she belongs, on the big screen.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024