I spend a lot of my movie-watching time with old movies- “classics” as most DVD rental stores call them, so I thought I would post some online reviews of films that have been around longer than online reviews to see how well they hold up. This week I rented Richard Attenborough’s 1983 Academy Award for Best Picture Winner Gandhi, a movie I’ve always meant to see because I thought I “should” but never got around to. Maybe it was it’s 190 minute running time. But I sat through Interstellar twice over the last two weeks so I decided I was ready.
This is, of course, the story of Mohandas K Gandhi, who I’ll assume needs no introduction, beginning in South Africa in 1893 until his death in 1948. So, 55 years of history over 3 hours. Get comfortable.
What it’s lost with age. Or maybe this was always a problem. I was a year old when Gandhi was originally released and my parents wouldn’t take me to see it at the time as much as I begged. Watching it today though, I thought Attenborough’s perfectly understandable reverence for his subject might have gotten in the way. Gandhi is potrayed more as saint than complex human being and we never really understand why he did the things he did. I’m not usually one to complain about length but it is tough to hold an audience’s attention for three hours when the main character does nothing but humble and self-sacrificing things.
What still holds up. Gandhi is played by Ben Kingsley (Sir Ben now but back then I think it was just Ben). Ben won a well-deserved Oscar for the part, beating out Tootsie’s Dustin Hoffman who ironically turned down the chance to play Gandhi, making me shudder to think how bad this movie could have been. As both the young hopeful Gandhi and the exhausted and starving older one, Ben’s eyes, voice, and posture are almost perfect. His performance is by far the best reason to see this movie.
Nice surprise for modern audiences. Early in the film, Gandhi is stopped on the street and mocked by three young punks (although they probably wouldn’t have been called that in the 1800s). My first thought was “These guys are so over the top. They have to be the worst actors in the entire movie”. My second thought was “Is that Daniel Day-Lewis?” It was. I guess everybody has to start somewhere.
Bottom line. When I’m watching a movie about a real guy, I tend not to like movies that try to cover too much. 55 years is a lot and I would have liked a movie that focused on a smaller, more manageable window in greater detail. Still, the old school production (real human extras instead of CGI ones, for example) give you that “they don’t make ’em like this anymore” feeling. And then there’s those performances. Ben Kingsley at his best, Daniel Day-Lewis at his worst. Who could ask for more?