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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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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
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 24 February 2016
Alfonso Cuaron's film handles the visual aspect of the story very well, especially in the first part, set in Florida. It looks as if his updating of Dickens's novel will work, changing the name of the main character from Pip to Finn, Miss Havisham to Ms Dunsmoor. These two characters are the most successful, but once the film moves to New York it begins to unravel. There were problems right from the start, in fact: the convict's appearance has a certain shock factor, but somehow fails to imprint itself deeply on the mind, and he doesn't appear again until the end, where the scenes lack the power they should have, and are not even convincing. The whole Estella strand is sacrificed to making her much more 'normal', playing on her beauty and star appeal at the expense of everything else. Darker threads such as Miss Havisham's plan to get revenge on men using Estella, and the snobbishness of Pip/Finn which he regrets so bitterly after not treating Joe properly, just get swept by the board. It's a bit as though the marvellous ink and crayon drawings by Francesco Clemente - Finn is a talented artist - had got waterlogged and all sense of line has been lost. The vagueness simply doesn't hold together, and the impressive waterside settings and fantasy mansion of Ms Dunsmoor, based on the Alhambra, are insufficient compensation. However it is worth seeing for the first hour, for Ethan Hawke's rampant sexiness especially in his more rough and ready mode before New York sophistication makes him over, the use of green, and a devilishly bizarre portrayal by Anne Bancroft. It's a bit like a panettone where the cake is indifferent but some of the bits of dried fruit taste pretty good.
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on 23 June 2015
I get rather tired of people who complain that the plots in filmed productions do not faithfully follow the details of books on which they are "loosely" based, as i prefer to judge films on their own merits. However, to each his/her own.
As such, I rather enjoyed this production, particularly the acting of Gwyneth Paltrow, who performed convincingly, and very well indeed.
Ethan Hawke, on the other hand came through as rather simple minded, and lacking direction.
Those kisses at the water fountain were a really neat touch, and for me, made it well worth a four star rating.
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While some will welcome the move to a 20th century setting, I fear that even allowing for what was a stellar cast at the time, the whole film left me pretty unemotionally involved for what is a timeless tale of missed opportunity and selfish love. The updating did not bring any new insights or the change of setting to USA improve the storytelling and of the actors none really impressed, De Niro in particular seeming content to simply reprise his mafioso persona seen in many other films he has been in.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 September 2011
SAFE READING - NO SPOILERS

With a sensational cast, haunting music, and great cinematography, this modern adaptation of one of Dickens's best-known and loved novels may be "far more fun and far more provocative than the original" (as one reviewer wrote) but, for me, that is the point, it is not the original. The original story is there, like the unexpectedly pleasant after-taste of a not so pleasant wine.

Probably this is the reaction of a reactionary, a Dickensian traditionalist but I take dislikes to films under the titles of classic books altering the characters and narratives to suit modern generations, leaving them with a warped (in the best sense of the word) version of stories and characters which have suited generations for, well, generations. For many, this new version of xxx will never be corrected, e.g. the new colour version of "Lord of the Flies", which completely missed the point in all its glorious colour and casting, "Robin Hood" in his new story, "William Wallace" in the SNP's driving force to name but three. Then there are all the re-makes of old films made by those who cannot come up with a good story of their own.

Having written that, as a film, it stands by itself, is very enjoyable and poses some of the original's dilemmas. Enjoyable film, but not Dickens. "Hold yur noise!"
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on 1 March 2016
I have no objection in principle to updating "classic" works for movies -- the recent "Coriolanus" with Ralph Fiennes was really well done. The problem with this updated "Great Expectations" is partly the same problem that ANY movie of this story has that tries to cram it into 120 minutes. That's not enough time to do justice to the childhood story (Pip's in Dickens, Finn's in this one) AND to the story of his moral awakening in the city after he has been bankrolled to an easier life by his unknown benefactor. Especially, the reappearance of the benefactor comes too late for a relationship between them to develop. By contrast, a TV series gives time both for the development of that relationship AND full treatment of the young man's discomfort at a visit by Joe, his guardian and brother-in-law from the sticks and a reminder of a poverty-stricken past that he (Pip or Finn) would rather forget in his new sophisticated surroundings. In this movie, Joe shows up at the opening of Finn's show at a ritzy gallery, and he behaves inappropriately. The focus is on Joe's apologies, while really it should be on Finn's cold behavior. Here, though, Finn (Ethan Hawke) doesn't seem any colder to Joe than to anyone else (he's distractedly looking for Estella), so his insensitivity just doesn't feature. Later, when Robert DeNiro shows up, we don't get enough time to see a relationship develop, and the circumstances of his death are unclear in a way that they're not in the novel. The most recent movie version for the cinema, which featured Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, had the same problem of not having time for the boy and benefactor relationship to develop.

These problems are problems that stem from the insufficient length of the movie. A more serious problem is the lack of chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Estella. Hawke just can't find a kind of expressiveness that differentiates his affect from his usual manner. and Paltrow simply isn't a credible object of desire. It's not at all clear why she marries the man she does (played here by Hank Azaria), a pleasant nonentity. In the novel (and in most other film versions), the relation between Miss Havisham's manipulation, Estella's coldness, and her marriage to the rich and despicable Bentley Drummle is crystal clear. I think that it was also a mistake to make Finn an artist -- a person who thus was able to have a possibility of "making it" by his own efforts. In the novel, and in earlier movie versions, Pip is an idle "gentleman" who has to learn what it means to be a responsible person, and learn the hard way. He has to go from being a thoughtless idler to a morally sensitive adult. Having Finn have, in effect, a profession, blurs the point about moral growth.

As with the earlier filmed versions, the part that focuses on the boy's childhood is the most arresting -- both dramatically and visually. The Miss Havisham figure her is played by Anne Bancroft, in an imaginatively ditzy impersonation, the drawback of which is that her malign influence on Estella isn't established. Chris Cooper is fine as Joe, and DeNiro is effectively scary in the opening scene -- shades of "Cape Fear"! But really, it's the romantic leads who let us down, I'm afraid.
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on 7 July 2013
Okay so Im a purist. But I do enjoy contemporary versions of classics if done well. Jury's out on this one. I didnt like the acting- it seemed unconvincing and I wasnt too impressed by the interpretation. Sorry. Found it frankly boring and rather depressing; little more than an excuse for gratuitous groping to be honest, which was never gonna cut it for me. I'll stick to the book I think.
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on 10 February 2015
I tried to watch this but after 30 mins gave up. The beauty of the original version is that you get a feel for the Gothic Realism and the struggle of the social classes. On top of that the deeply bleak and atmospheric house of Miss Havisham and her deeply disturbing character. If you've never read the book or seen the original film you may really enjoy this but if you have. I think you'll be disappointed.
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on 6 April 2002
I watched this film, not expecting much but came out with a great sense of passion. This heart-rendering tale is told beautifully and superbly acted by an all-star cast. Not to mention the soundtrack which I have to say blew me away and reduced me to tears! The dvd has great visuals and is a real must for any movie lover.
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on 13 November 2008
To say that 'the essence of Dickens is perfectly rendered' (as claimed by one reviewer) in this dumbed-down monstrosity is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who has read the original. Everything that made the original story great, including the plot twists, is stripped out, leaving a withered husk of the story, and creating (using the term loosely) a basic, rather tedious love story. I was actually left angry after watching this. It is sad that society has degraded to the level of intelligence that is the target audience of what can only be described as a hate crime against Dickens.
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