Monday, November 29, 2004

Unmet Expectations

Great Expectations (1998). Dir. Alfonso Cuaron. Perf. Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hank Azaria, Chris Cooper, Anne Bancroft, Robert De Niro, Josh Mostel, Kim Dickens.

In a this modernized form of Charles Dickens' literary masterpiece, the cast and crew of Great Expectations blend together the emotions of Dickens' protagonist with twentieth-century tale of lust, riches, and Mob influences. Though Dickens' own concepts are drawn out from time to time as the film progresses, young Finn (Hawke) moves through the movie set adrift without the comfort of many of the supporting literary chracters.

Cuaron focuses mainly on the relationship between Finn and Estella (Paltrow), beginning with their enforced acquaintance in a fancy house on the gulf coast of Florida and continuing on through their adolescence and early adulthood, when they find one another in New York city and continue their tagle of uncertainty, intrigue, temptation, and desire. Paltrow's Estella is seductive and not unlovely, but lacking some of the iciness commonly associated with her character.

Artistically, the film is sleek and polished. Its abrupt and rougher moments are intentional, and Cuaron obviously designed the scenes to parallel Finn's emotions. Although a little time is given to Uncle Joe (Cooper) and Ms. Dinsmoor (Bancroft), they serve as tangential characters, appearing only when necessary to Finn's story and with very little development. The suspense is well plotted, and the often lighthearted soundtrack paralleled the tones of the film very well. The unnecessary language and sexuality was unnecessary; although Estella's first nude scene was well crafted and sensually shot, a similar feel could have been accomplished far less crudely. Similarly, the swear words of the convict served to set him apart effectively only until all the other characters began to exhibit similar vocabulary and traits, at which point the use of language became meaningless.

Overall, the film is well written although it serves as a miserable excuse for the novel on which it was founded. Just enough of the original was kept to leave well-read viewers frustrated by the bastardizations. The high point of the film comes as Estella makes a surprisingly Dickens-esque speech to Finn, describing her upbringing and training to Finn as the Estella of the novel does to Dickens' Miss Havisham, but aside from this one scene and Finn's development as a whole, Cuaron's Great Expectations is a shoddy representation of a beautiful novel. He would have been far better off with an original and less-adapted script.

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