Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hank Azaria, Chris Cooper, Anne Bancroft, Robert De Niro, Josh Mostel, Kim Dickens, Nell Campbell, Gabriel Mann, Jeremy James Kissner, Raquel Beaudene
Written by: Mitch Glazer, based on a novel by Charles Dickens
Directed by: Alfonso Cuar—n
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 111
Date: 01/30/1998

Great Expectations (1998)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Dickens, You Say

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Alfonso Cuaron updates Dickens to the 1990s with lots of gorgeous color and vivid eroticism. Ethan Hawke stars as "Finn" (not "Pip"), who is an artist this time out. Miss Havisham is now Ms. Dinsmoor (Anne Bancroft), who invites young Finn over to amuse her and dance with the beautiful young Estella. Robert De Niro is the escaped convict who surprises the youngster in the opening scenes (he leaps out of a Florida stream, rather than appearing in a graveyard). Finn's guardian Joe (Chris Cooper) is now a fisherman, rather than a blacksmith. And on and on.

Finn grows up and moves to New York, where he meets the grown Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow). She remains hot and cold toward him, posing naked for him and seducing him, but also agreeing to marry a society man (Hank Azaria). The general gist of the novel is the same (an indictment of class separation), but Cuaron takes Havisham's mansion, overgrown with greenery, and spreads that feeling out to the entire film, playing with space, weather and vivid colors (especially green). It's a fairly minor film, and can't replace David Lean's masterful 1946 version, but it's quite lovely and successful at creating its own time and place.

Paltrow won an Oscar the same year, for Shakespeare in Love, which was a better written, but less interesting film.

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