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Less than the sum of its parts
on 25 September 2014
A film about the Second World War, a favourite subject of the director’s, told from the perspective of an 11 year old boy Jim, and played by Christian Bale, living in wealthy British colonial Shanghai. Upon the invasion of the Japanese army he is separated from his parents and ends up in a prison camp where he is forced to learn to fend for himself. He makes friends with several other characters, Basie played by John Malkovich, a sort of American Fagin type, Doctor Rawlins, the prison camp physician, played by Nigel Havers, and several others.
There are some really good scenes; such as the P51 Mustang flying by at low level waving at our Jim, and early in the film the absurdity of a colonial fancy dress party whilst chaos is all around in the streets. There is a lack of coherent narrative and you don’t feel at times that the film is making any progression. Bale’s character seems to have annoying, somewhat autistic behaviour, which irritates after a long 2 ½ hours. The other characters above, and others, such as Miranda Richardson and Leslie Philips don’t really get developed enough to make them interesting. By the way did I mention its 2 ½ hours long, and it feels it too. That long, even though 3-4 years are sketched over during the prison camp section.
I think that the film has possibly not aged well, although I hadn’t seen it before (2014), and I lost any sympathy for the boy Jim early on, which kind of ruins the film! Maybe back in 1987 audiences were slightly less cynical. I don’ think Jim would have survived the camp.
There are some good scenes and it is worth watching if you are interested in war films although this is not your average war film. It is epic in scale if not in the delivery of the story.
3 out of 5 stars.