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THE HURRICANE

THE HURRICANE (A-3, R): The improbable story of boxer Rubin (“Hurricane”) Carter is a rare movie which has meaning and power. The title performance by Denzel Washington is probably the best of his already memorable career. And the dominant messages are clear: Love beats hate, and people working together can do what even the strongest individual alone can’t do.

This movie by veteran director Norman Jewison is based on several books, including Carter’s autobiography. Carter was a tough New Jersey ghetto kid targeted by racist cops.

Carter, who is bounced in and out of trouble and jail, withdraws, recharges and disciplines his inner strength. He fights his way to the top of his profession in the 1960’s, then is convicted of an unlikely, senseless shooting and sent back to prison for life.

He always maintains his innocence and his case becomes a famous liberal cause. But Carter’s lawyers run into dubious witnesses and fail in two retrials.

The providential break comes when three white Canadians are mentoring a promising young African American (Lesra Martin, played by Vicellous Reon Shannon). He wants to enter college and they’re helping him learn to read. His first book, picked randomly from a pile for 25 cents, is Carter’s autobiography.

Lesra writes to The Hurricane, and they develop a touching father-son relationship. Lesra and his friends throw themselves into the case with selfless investigative work, moving to New Jersey and restarting the appeal. After 19 years, Carter is exonerated and free.

This complex story is about love, hate and friendship. It’s a boxing movie, prison movie, gritty social drama, detective thriller, tangled courtroom-legal combat. Washington’s Carter has strength, dignity and courage.

For the Canadian Jewison, whose film repertoire ranges from In the Heat of the Night to Moonstruck, the subject is racism and injustice, but the emphasis is on hope and redemption. (Compare it to Dead Man Walking and In the Name of the Father.) Gritty but uplifting; recommended for mature viewers.

THE GREEN MILE

THE GREEN MILE (A-3, R), also a prison movie, is a semi-religious parable about a gentle, compassionate miracle worker. An itinerant black field hand in Louisiana in 1935 ends up (mistakenly) on Death Row, where he interacts with the guards and other doomed convicts.

This Stephen King story focuses on the guards. All whites, they are humanized instead of demonized, especially their leader, Paul (Tom Hanks), who runs the execution block as kindly and efficiently as he can. His instrument, however, is the basic model electric chair, “Old Sparky.”

The story is built on the contrast between this official business of death and the life-force represented by convict John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan). He’s a huge, muscled black man, a childlike, pure-of-heart Christ figure who has the power of healing.

He restores the squished body of the cellblock’s pet mouse, crushed under the heel of the unit’s sadist psycho guard (superbly rotten Doug Hutchison). If Coffey can really work miracles, Paul and his pals hope he can do something for the warden’s young wife, who is suffering from a brain tumor. This leads to a splendid, if improbably staged, moment of grace.

Mile drones on for three hours with murky fervor. But writer-director Frank Darabont has some eloquent passages relevant to racism and capital punishment (among them, the most horrific electrocution ever filmed). The Death House characters are (ironically) intriguing and alive.

In trying to show how the divine may work in human life, however, Mile is more mystifying than the mystery it hopes to illuminate. Fine acting, some power, some excess, and probably too much loving care.

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (A-4, R) is a somewhat lurid version of the dark side of the American Dream. Its loner protagonist Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) has a pathological craving to escape his drab poverty and menial work life. He exploits his special talents as a musician and ingratiating con man to penetrate the upper crust, the spoiled leisure class of beautiful young Americans in 1950’s Italy. Then he desperately becomes a serial murderer to stay there.

Tom begins by persuading a shipping magnate he’s an old college pal of his son Dickie (Jude Law), and is dispatched to Europe to reel him back from his wastrel ways. But instead Tom falls for both la dolce vita and Dickie, a dazzling playboy.

After an ugly argument at sea, Dickie dies bloodily. Unrepentant Tom assumes his identity and wealth. Tom keeps the ruse going, juggling varied friends who know him as either “Tom” or “Dickie.” Gwyneth Paltrow, as Dickie’s luminous and obviously endangered fiancée, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, as an obnoxious and suspicious rival, provide strong Hitchcockian moments.

Tom is a smooth, high-I.Q. psycho, a politically incorrect gay villain. His pathetic life is an adult moral quagmire. Our mounting outrage at the apparent success of each new crime is appropriate. You can see why Damon, the cast and director Anthony Minghella (adapting the Patricia Highsmith novel) enjoyed the artistic challenge and the marvelous touristy locales. But two and a half hours with Tom is a bit much for the audience. Suspenseful, well-crafted but frustrating character study; satisfactory for adults.

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (O, PG-13): This adaptation by John Irving of his 1985 novel follows the early life of Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), a gentle youth raised as an orphan during the 1930’s at the fictional St. Cloud’s in rural Maine. Unlike most movie orphanages, St. Cloud’s is womb-like and benign, protective of its unwanted and sometimes poignantly ill children. It’s operated by the kindly Dr. Larch (Michael Caine), a gynecologist and philosophical humanist who also quietly performs abortions, which were then illegal.

Homer, a bright and apt pupil, is groomed as Larch’s (unlicensed) successor. But he resists taking part in abortions. Coming of age in 1943, he goes off to experience the outside world. Working at an apple farm on the nearby seacoast, he falls in love with a young wife (Charlize Theron) whose husband has gone to war. He also becomes friends with migrant apple pickers, where he’s forced to make a decision regarding a pregnancy resulting from a case of father-daughter incest.

Homer returns to St. Cloud’s to carry on the tradition of his mentor Larch, who has died. In both the book and film, Irving favors abortion.

Cider explores family love of varied kinds and moral worth. It makes a heartcracking case for adoptions, with its appealing images of forgotten older children, desperate for love, who will never be adopted.

Director Lasse Hallstrom (the fourth involved in the project) tiptoes through the sentimentality and makes the environments of St. Cloud’s and the orchard/cider mill fresh and credible. Delroy Lindo is crucial and superb as the complex leader of the migrant family. Controversial adult material, gentle and civilized but a bit draggy and emotionally confused; not recommended.

QUIZ SHOWS

QUIZ SHOWS: The ratings surge, which has inspired the return of prime-time quiz shows (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Twenty One and others), is superficially puzzling. Didn’t we have enough in the 1950’s, when the need to retain popular contestants week after week led to cheating and to the then-new medium’s biggest scandal?

It doesn’t seem like much fun to watch other people win or lose large amounts of money. But spiritually minded Americans tend to forget they live in a consumer culture in which money (and what it can buy) is the object of almost all activity. Americans also like spectator sports. Lottery winners become celebrities, symbols of materialistic hope.

The economy is on a roll and many Americans have money, but not the big money people win on game shows.

Some argue that at least you’re not embarrassed when watching game shows with kids and grandparents. But maybe the conscience just isn’t working. It’s hard, in this environment, to teach kids that greed (like adultery) is a sin. Sacrifice has become a peculiar word. “Sacrifice for the common good,” as a phrase, has all but disappeared. It’s probably not good for the Catholic spirit to spend a lot of time watching anguished strangers on TV in pursuit of big bucks.

ST. PATRICK, THE IRISH LEGEND

ST. PATRICK, THE IRISH LEGEND (Fox Family Network, March 12, repeating March 17) The timing is right for this new movie by producer-director Robert Hughes. Dublin-born Patrick Bergin, who has played many heroes (Robin Hood) and bad guys (the obsessive ex-husband in Sleeping With the Enemy), gets to play the saint. The cast includes veterans Alan Bates, Susannah York, Malcolm McDowell. The Chieftains and Clannad are among those who provide music.

THE DECALOGUE

THE DECALOGUE makes its long-awaited debut on home video March 28. This is the widely acclaimed 10-hour film (made in 1988-89 as a miniseries for Polish television) by writer-director Krzysztof Kieslowski. It’s one of 15 movies chosen to have special merit “for values” by the Vatican in 1995 to help mark the 100th anniversary of cinema. Its only U.S. theatrical exposure was a tour of a few art cinemas, winning raves from major critics.

Each episode of about one hour, set in a contemporary Warsaw apartment complex, dramatically takes on a commandment and explores its relevance.

Kieslowski, considered one of the greatest European film artists, died in 1996 at age 54 after heart-bypass surgery. Episodes of The Decalogue will be reviewed here from time to time. The five-volume boxed set, with two stories per cassette, is in Polish with English subtitles. (To order, call Facets Multimedia at 800-331-6197. Cost is $99.95 plus $4.75 for shipping and handling.)

 

 


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