Movie Review 2007 #14: Great Expectations

The Americanized version of the Dickens story, starring Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert DeNiro.

Adapting a novel like GE is hard work, and Cuaron (who most recently has done Children of Men) makes a lot of choices and cuts in order to fit the novel on screen.
Most significantly, he updates the novel to modern America and changes some of the names and turns the movie into much more of a Romance. Ethan Hawke is Finnegan Bell, whose story arc we watch, from a child on the Florida coast, learning to paint, doing a good turn for a convict (De Niro), falling in love with Paltrow’s Estella, and after giving up his art for years, is given the chance to paint in New York by a mysterious benefactor…and meets Estella for another chance at Estella in the process. Anne Bancroft and Chris Cooper have good roles, too, as Estella’s aunt and Bell’s uncle, respectively.
The movie lacks a lot of the heft and emotional depth of the novel. On the other hand, the principals do fairly well with shallower, reduced and changed roles from the book and inhabit the movie well enough even if its not the original ur-text. There are no weak performances here.
On the other hand, like in Children of Men and HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Cuaron’s strong suit are visuals. The visuals here are not as fantasy laden as HP, and not as gritty as COM, but from beautiful cinematography on the Florida shore, to the run down mansion which still has an echo of its former glory, to the visuals in NY, Cuaron definitely knows how to show places and people on film, and well.
I particularly liked the art that Bell draws and paints throughout the movie. Its clear that they were done by a real artist, the same artist, and they add to the mise-en-scene of Hawke’s Bell as a very talented painter who really does deserve an opening in a NYC Gallery. The movie’s score is a good one, too.
I liked it.