a remarkable prison film starring mcqueen and hoffman; goldsmith does the score and schaffner directs. with the exception of koyaanisqatsi every one of my favorite films has great characters. characters are more important than any other element of a film for me. for a film to be successful it has to have characters who are interesting, multi-faceted and compelling. this film oozes characters, beginning with mcqueen and hoffman. both turn in absolutely great performances here. it’s not hoffman’s best performance ever (midnight cowboy and the graduate probably tie for that honor), but it’s high on the list of many great performances. this is probably mcqueen’s best performance, though i haven’t seen the sand pebbles (which is usually labeled his best).
it’s a film the reminds me of “i am a fugitive from a chain gang” and “shawshank redemption.” it takes place primarily inside of a french prison in the Caribbean and focuses on mcqueen’s (who is wrongly jailed) struggle to gain freedom. in this way it’s like many prison films. i really like films about prison and war. to me they feature the best and worst of humanity, the extremes of humanity and they do so in the most base circumstances. they strip away everything and reveal people for who they are. this film does that about as well as any other i can think of right now.
i saw schaffner’s “patton” some years ago and don’t remember much about it, but watching this film makes me think i need to revisit that one. schaffner’s direction is exactly where it needs to be. they talk about drummers playing “in the pocket” and i think that that term could apply to schaffner’s direction here. it doesn’t mean that he has a lack of artistic flourish, rather it means that when those flourishes arise, they are perfectly timed and executed. schaffner’s direction is always rooted in keeping the viewer engaged. he gives visual cues before something happens, he visually echoes the emotions of the characters and of the audience; and, at the same time, he doesn’t bludgeon you. he shows you the edge of the cliff, but he doesn’t push you over, as some are want to do.
i like direction that uses the medium of film in a creative way. most films are cut and covered in a fairly conservative, prosaic and typical fashion. they’re cut and filmed in a way that is meant to be easy to read and leave as much to the acting and plot as possible. the same can be said for most scores – they’re there enough to know they’re there, but not to actually say anything. schaffner’s direction and goldsmith’s score, however are present. they make themselves known and it’s never a bad thing. directors are often afraid of suffocating a film with their style, and sometimes rightfully so (because a lot of directors suck). schaffner, though, directed Papillion with confidence and style. he’s never overbearing and his direction never asserts itself too much. likewise, goldsmith’s score is present and assertive, but never overbearing or at all prone to detracting from the essential focus at the time (advancing the plot, establishing a character, etc.). B+.
“blame is for god and small children”