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A blind man falls in love and regains his sight. Sounds impossible? It really did happen. This true story, the subject of Oliver Sacks' book To See & Not See, provides the basic theme of At First Sight, starring Mia Sorvino and Val Kilmer. Although romantics will enjoy the tender, sentimentalized love story, the director (Irwin Winkler) and scriptwriter (Steve Lovett) could have achieved much more by concentrating more on the character of Virgil, the blind man, than on the romance. 

On holiday in a small Connecticut town, high-flying architect Amy (charmingly played by Sorvino) meets Virgil (Kilmer), who works as a masseur in her hotel. Although warned by her work mates that their romance could be fraught with difficulty, Amy falls in love. Virgil returns her affection, but must contend with his protective sister, who feels threatened by the changes Amy may bring to their lives. 

Well-intentioned but ambitious, Amy discovers Virgil's blindness may be cured. She persuades him to have the operation that may cure him, in spite of his sister's warnings. Virgil's father once nurtured the hope that his son could see, but left the family when the dream appeared impossible, causing the family much pain. 

Initially slow-moving, At First Sight picks up interest after the operation. Although Virgil can see after the operation, he does not understand what he sees. The world appears as a series of images that he cannot connect with the world he knows. Even an experienced therapist cannot help him. Having adapted to and accepted his blindness, he now must adjust to the world of sight. Virgil's difficulty in meeting this challenge adversely affects his relationship with Amy. 

Val Kilmer, although good-looking with an expressive voice, lacks the range to portray Virgil convincingly, and the movie's script and slack plotting do nothing to fill in the blanks. Virgil's difficulties in adapting to the sighted world warrant more screen time. His transition from blindness to a proper understanding of sight seems much too sudden -- and much too hard for Kilmer to carry off.  

Ironically Sorvino, the better actor, has the easier part. It would be good to see her in a role that offers more scope. Kelly McGillis also shines as the protective elder sister.  

Excessive sentimentality mars the film in many ways. Cliches litter the script, and the amount of time devoted to developing the love story prevents viewers from learning as much as they might like about Virgil's road to sight. Plus, the story drags towards the end. 

Nevertheless, At First Sight offers much worth seeing -- a moving love story and good acting from most of the principals. More importantly, it inspires the desire to learn more about the book and case on which the film is based. 

Lisa-Anne Sanderson

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