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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The English Patient (1996)



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The English Patient is a paradox, for it is an excellent film, yet lacks something fundamental at its core that would have made it truly great. It received eleven Academy Award nominations and won nine of them. It deserved probably all except, ironically, Best Picture. The English Patient is a sweeping wartime romance mystery epic with the highest of production values. Analytically speaking, it is a work of brilliance. The Oscars for Best Sound and Best Costumes and Best Art Direction, etc, were particularly deserved. The tale is fabulously woven and told with style. It's a study in love, and as surely as Kristin Scott Thomas rattles off many of the types of love there can be, you'll find as many illustrated later on. Yet what is it missing at its heart which prevents it from ranking with the greatest films ever made? It would help if we got to know the characters a little better. After spending three hours with Ralph Fiennes' character, in particular, one leaves the theater feeling no special relationship or connection with him. He's not a cardboard cut-out -- the movie did its job characterizing him and his simultaneous desire and hatred for ownership. Yet some elusive spark is missing that fails to make it all work. A similar, though less extreme, problem exists with Juliet Binoche's character, who lacks not in her character but in its purpose. She's lost a lot of loved ones and is terrified of losing more. She's nursing Fiennes, a burn victim gradually recovering his memory, and her fear of losing him adds some tension -- but there's no pay-off. There's no defining moment when we see her addressing her fear definitively, for better or for worse. The film ends, and we leave with the impression, but not the satisfaction, that we have seen something great. It's well worth watching, several times even, for this is a rich motion picture, and you'll learn more from each viewing. But it's not the masterpiece it should have been.