Oliver Sacks’ story To See and Not See, a true account regarding restoring sight to the blind must have seemed like the perfect idea for a movie. Not only does an actor get to stretch his chops as a blind man, but the “miracle cure” would be, by definition, an uplifting moment. Both of these are true of At First Sight, but the film isn’t happy to leave good enough alone. Instead, the film is saddled with a romantic subplot that proves unmoving and distracting.
Virgil Adamson (Val Kilmer) lost his sight between the ages of 1 and 3 due to congenital cataracts. Since then, under the protective wing of his elder sister Jennie (Kelly McGillis), he has made a life for himself as a massage therapist at a local resort.
However, everything is about to change when Amy Benic (Mira Sorvino) enters his life. She’s an architect from New York who comes to the resort for a weekend getaway. She goes in for a massage, and winds up falling in love.
Back in New York, Amy discovers Dr. Charles Aaron (Bruce Davison), a surgeon with some radical ideas which just might be able to restore Virgil’s sight. But, after living all his life without vision, will Virgil be able to relearn everything he knows about the world in order to see?
The medical drama of At First Sight, based on a true story, is easily the film’s most compelling element. Though the premise at first feels a bit gimmicky, it is handled competently and with a good deal of thoughtfulness.
But At First Sight is hesitant to rely on the medical drama alone. Rather, it supplements the story with a romantic angle, and here is where it falters. The chemistry-free relationship between Mira Sorvino and Val Kilmer feels very artificial and lifeless.
Mira Sorvino is the prime culprit here. Her bland character is simply unappealing. Val Kilmer has the heftier role, and can always fall back on his character’s visual dilemma for drama. Sorvino only has the romance to work with, and that’s not a solid structure here at all.
In a delightful supporting turn, Nathan Lane briefly appears as a visual therapist. His few scenes in the film are such a welcome relief that it leaves you wondering how much better the film would have been without the overstressed romantic angle.
In the end, At First Sight is still worth watching…but there are plenty of better things to see.