Top positive review
30 people found this helpful
"Somebody wants to turn this frog into a prince.",
on 4 November 2004
With a sensational cast, haunting music, and great cinematography, this modern adaptation of Dickens's novel is far more fun and far more provocative than the original, however much one might like that novel. Set in a contemporary Gulf Coast village in Florida, Finnegan Bell (Ethan Hawke) is brought up by Joe (Chris Cooper), the lover of his sister, who has abandoned them both. A working class boy with a love of fishing and a gift for artwork, Finn is ten when escaped murderer Arthur Lustig (Robert DeNiro) surfaces one day while Finn is out exploring tidal pools. After helping him, Finn later forgets him.
Finn eventually meets Nora Dinsmore (Anne Bancroft), the richest woman in town, and her niece Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow), whom he has been hired to visit every Saturday. When Estella goes away to school, Finn loses touch with both of them, until, years later, he is suddenly invited to New York to show his artwork. A mysterious trust supports him, and he reconnects with Estella and all the other characters from the past.
Director Alfonso Cuaron and screenwriter Mitch Glazer have created a modern story of obsession and revenge. Nora Dinsmore, who was jilted on the day of her wedding, thirty years before, has been training Estella, over the years, to tease and then destroy the men who love her. Anne Bancroft plays Nora to the hilt as a funky and exotic caricature, heavily made up, carrying a cigarette holder and martini glass, while gyrating to erotic music and chanting "Chick-a-boom." DeNiro is a vicious Lustig, and his first appearance is a shocker. Ethan Hawke, as Finn, does a good job, though he is hard pressed to hold his own when the rest of the cast is camping it up. Paltrow, as Estella, is coldly calculating in her sexual teasing, and lacking the vulnerability one expects. Chris Cooper, as the sympathetic Joe, provides the perfect foil for the other characters at key points in the film.
The lush cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezky) features Spanish moss, the eerie and dilapidated old house of Nora Dinsmore, lovely scenes of tidal pools and wild nature, and the hot New York art and café world. The director and producers have chosen nine different composers, ranging from Tory Amos to Iggy Pop, to create appropriate music for a succession of very different scenes, and they succeed in creating a haunting mood and atmosphere. Though the ending is abrupt and trite, the cast is terrific, and the film is great fun, especially in its contrasts to the Dickens novel. Mary Whipple