The English Patient – Long And Tedious

The English Patient – Long And Tedious

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  1. Drama.  Romance.  War.  The English Patient involves all of these things in an epic two hour and forty-two minute frame story that garnered a stunning twelve Oscar nominations winning nine of them including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Juliette Binoche), Best Cinematography and others.  Anthony Minghella’s 1996 adaptation of Michael Ondaatje novel of the same name is a highly polarizing film.  So polarizing, in fact, that the classic TV series "Seinfeld" had an episode called "The English Patient" in which everyone is raving about The English Patient which is in theaters.  Elaine, however, gets ostracized from her group of friends and almost gets fired because she hates the film saying calling it too long and making fun of the sex scenes.

    What is it about?

    A plane crashes in the African desert as World War 2 is coming to an end.  The guy piloting the plane suffers very intesnse burns all over his body.  A young nurse named Hana (Juliette Binoche) makes it her mission to keep him alive.  She stays behind the rest of her convoy in a deserted church and tends to him.  As they continue to spend time together, Hana learns of the victim’s involvement in a long love affair.

    The burn victim is Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) who spent many years in a hidden affair with the beautiful and priviledged Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) who was married to war photographer Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth).  Their torrid affair finally ends with Almasy’s plan to kill Geoffrey in a plane crash so he can have Katharine to himself.  Unfortunately for him, Katharine was in the plane with Geoffrey when they crashed.  

    There is a lot more that goes on including some espionage, sand storms, singing around a fire, and hopscotch but it’s not worth going into since the real story in The English Patient is the love story.  Also, it would take about two hours to explain the whole story (even though they took almost three).

    Is it any good?

    There are certainly things that are done very well in this film but it is way, way, way too long.  The story in not interesting enough to spend 162 minutes telling it.  The cinematography is good, though.  Anthony Minghella and his Director of Photography, John Seale, make the bland desert actually look beautiful.  It’s amazing how much they are able to do with just sand and different shades of brown.

    Where the problem comes in is with the characters.  We are asked to root for this love story going on between Katharine and Almasy… but it is AN AFFAIR.  She is cheating on her husband!  They are cheapening the bond of marriage and we are supposed to root for them to be together?  I don’t think so.  It doesn’t help that the guy that’s being cheated on is played by the uber-charismatic Colin Firth.  Also, these characters aren’t very well developed.  If they are three dimensional, they are that kind of three dimensional that you find in pop-up books (it’s really 2D parading around as 3D).  Probably the most shocking thing about this film is that, even in 162 minues, the writer and director can’t get us to care about the characters.  I’ve cared more about characters in a 90 minute film.  All we know about our lovers is that Katharine wants to be out of the desert and is cheating on her charismatic and loving husband with a guy she doesn’t even really know.  And what we know about Almasy is that he was a spy (a.k.a. traitor or professional liar) and that he is aiding in breaking apart a marriage.  These aren’t two people we want to root for.

    The best character (and acting performance) is Juliette Binoche’s Hana.  You are drawn to her because of the main character trait we know about her:  she cares so much that she is willing to stay behind and keep this guy alive that is clearly about to die.  Also, we feel for her because every man she has loved has been killed.  She’s had a rough time in the war, yet she still has a relatively positive outlook on life.  Now that’s a character we can root for.  The thing that blows my mind about her, though, is when she sleeps with Kip (Naveen Andrews).  It seems to come out of nowhere.  I don’t think they had more than two interactions before he led her to a deserted building with strategically placed candles.  Then he lets her swing from a rope with a flare in her hand to look at some nice paintings and she falls madly in love with him?  That was fast!  In 162 minutes, you’d think there would be plenty of time to fully develop that relationship… I guess not.

    Overall, everything is well done from a technical standpoint but The English Patient suffers from weak characters and an extremely tedious pace.  For me, it’s shocking that The English Patient won so many Oscars (I personally think Slingblade is better since it is well done AND more entertaining).

    Nolan’s Grade:  C-

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