Wednesday, February 08, 2006



Dir: George Stevens (Swing Time; Gunga Din; Woman of the Year; The Talk of the Town; A Place in the Sun; Shane; The Diary of Anne Frank; The Greatest Story Ever Told)

It is way too cliche to say that Giant is big. But it is, so I will say it anyway. Big as Texas.

It had been some time since I had seen this epic of the heartland. It was during my AFI top 100 blitz, and it left an impression but deserved a closer look than I gave it in those whirlwind months of film watching. The second time through I remain impressed but find the messgae flawed.

The acting stands out. Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor are great at playing stubborn, the former as the rancher stuck in tradition and the latter as the headstrong Easterner who must simultaneously adapt and adapt to her new prarie home. But of course the movie is stolen by James Dean as the oil baron who cannot escape the demons of his past. Everyone else are children compared to this mature giant of only 25 years. His Welles-esque portrayal of Jett Rink is one of the performances in American cinema. The fact that Dean channels Ted Windt later on in the movie is an added bonus for Pitt folk.

The photography is another high point. The immensity of the story and the country are captured often in strikingly wide shots and sparse open spaces. It's like Lawrence of Arabia, but with dry earth and oil wells instead of sand dunes and trains. Stevens deserved his Oscar for his direction.

The story, though, is quite heavy handed years later. The self awakening to the racism of the old Texas, and its adjustment to oil wealth, lack the subtlty of a good movie from today. "Don't hate Mexican people" is clubbed over our heads for about 2 hours. The message is in the right place, obviously, but comes off a little bit too after-school special than Crash-like examination of race relations.

No one should be allowed to die without seeing the whole Dean catalogue. It's three movies. Just watch them all. He is a dynamo, the best actor ever if measured per minute.