This is an astonishing film. As the son of a career military man, I recognised some of the aspects of growing up in such an environment. The constant moving, the impermanence of things, and the general competitiveness that comes with the atmosphere are very accurately portrayed. Fortunately for me, my father was not the domineering Great Santini type! Robert Duvall plays a Marine Corps fighter pilot, one of the best of an elite corps, with an ego to match. His name is 'Bull' Meechum, but he styles himself the 'Great Santini'. Blythe Danner puts in an exquisite understated performance as the long-suffering yet loving wife, the strong and caring mother. Michael O'Keefe had what was perhaps the best role of his career as the coming-of-age son, competing with his father yet yearning for love and approval. Stan Shaw likewise turns in an excellent performance as Toomer, the black local who gets into trouble. While many of the other supporting cast did not go on to great fame, it is certainly not due to lack of acting ability as shown in this film. Despite being nearly a quarter of a century old now, the film stands up to the passage of time. The characters remain believable; the situations and cinematography bear up well. The film has a timeless quality that qualifies it as a classic, and portrays both the military and southern experience realistically without distortion pro or con. The main drama is between Meechum and his son Ben, but the secondary plot lines are strong without distracting from the primary interaction. The films ends in a strong, sombre mood, as the respect that has grudgingly built between father and son is finally realised, and the family dynamic continues its slow evolution as the family moves to yet another home at the end. The scene in which Ben, the son, finally beats Bull Meechum at basketball, at anything (Ben mentions it is the first time ANY of the children have beaten him at anything) is classic. Both Duvall and O'Keefe give strong performances as their respective characters, Duvall the father who is at once proud of his son for succeeding and still angry at his own shortcomings, lashing out at the family, and Ben, who stands his ground to claim his victory, despite the taunting and pettiness of his father. The DVD version presents no special features to speak of ; it is essentially a video on disc. However, it is a film that is well worth having in one's collection, and were they available to give, it would get ten stars.
This excellent film is for me the story of a professional problem we Spanish know very well: the boring of a military man without a war to fight. Imagine, this is the story of Franco, for example. Simply, suppose you study a career during many years: lawyer, physician, mechanic. When you finish, logically you should expect to work in these areas. The problem with military is his area of work is fighting and war, and the big danger, that if a real war doesn't exists, some of them feel defrauded and tempted to invent one. The rest is easy to understand: extreme, absurd competiveness, bad treats to his wife, bad familiar life... Summing up, a real dilemma that however seems in the USA hasn't yet provoked any internal serious conflict. But in Spain, many, many times as our history is by far much more large.