One my film class films. Actually, it’s the first one I show. It’s slower-moving than most films, which is one reason I show it. I want the students to focus on what they are SEEING. The film, which deservedly won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, is a master class in composition, lighting, color and camerawork. Not that it’s a series of pretty pictures that move—not even close. But the composition, lighting, color and camerawork all tell a story that enriches and deepens the plot. You can see the division existing between father and son Michaels in the way they are framed; you can see promise and hope in the changing color schemes; you can see the connection between jealousy and murderous intent in a simple camera move, as well as fatherly love for a “son” he’s not related to. One stunning moment is simply the lighting on Mr. Rooney’s face (a face that belongs to an excellent Paul Newman, who mellowed into an actor of rare depth and subtlety) that tells more than words ever could what agonizing internal conflict looks like.
The themes are eternal. Father/son love and hate, redemption, coming of age, loyalty, family—it’s almost an overstuffed film, except that it doesn’t hit you over the head with it. It just lives there, usually under the surface, and invites deserved repeat viewings.
This is a film starring Tom Hanks that is NOT a Tom Hanks film. I still don’t think he completely nailed this character, but he was perfectly cast. He’s still this past generation’s Jimmy Stewart, its Mr. All America. What better person to cast as the “nice killer” in a film that also features a spiteful, jealous killer (Daniel Craig) and a sick killing machine (Jude Law)? Among the three, Hanks inhabiting the character who is both a beloved “son” and a learning-to-love father is a great way to balance a movie where only a few minor characters do the right thing. How many actors could you cast as a professional killer that we need to like to make the film work?
See it once for the plot. Then see it again later and start looking for the depths of the father/son stories that resonate throughout. Then look for all the religious imagery and references. Then watch young Michael’s coming-of-age journey. Then wait until you’re a father and see it again. You’ll love all those different films that make up the one movie.