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(1998) (Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow) (R)

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Drama: A young man pursues the elusive niece of a deranged, but rich woman who presumably helps transform him from a dirt poor boy to a famous artist over a span of fifteen years.
Finnegan Bell (JEREMY KISSNER) is a ten-year-old boy living with his older sister Maggie (KIM DICKENS) and her husband, Uncle Joe (CHRIS COOPER), a Floridian handyman. A typical poor kid, Finn's uneventful life is briefly interrupted by a chance encounter with Arthur Lustig (ROBERT DE NIRO), an escaped convict who threatens to harm the boy and his family if he doesn't help. Not knowing any better, Finn does help Lustig who, although recaptured, never forgets the boy's help. Meanwhile, desperate for work, Uncle Joe takes a job cleaning up the overgrown, dilapidated mansion of Ms. Dinsmoor (ANNE BANCROFT), a rich, but mentally deranged woman who never recovered from being stood up on her wedding day.

Tagging along with his uncle to the mansion, Finn briefly meets Estella (RAQUEL BEAUDENE), Dinsmoor's young, but prissy niece. Noting their attraction to each other, Dinsmoor "hires" Finn to entertain her and Estella. Soon the years have passed, and Finn (ETHAN HAWKE) finds that he's still attracted to Estella (GWYNETH PALTROW), despite her aloofness. She leaves to study abroad, however, and being distraught, he gives up his life-long passion of drawing. More years pass and Finn finds that a mysterious benefactor has arranged for him to travel to New York to pursue a career as an artist. Once there, he again finds Estella, but she's now engaged to Walter Plane (HANK AZARIA), a wealthy, arrogant architect. As Finn attempts to become a professional artist, he must balance that with his renewed love for Estella.

Preteens won't, and the thought of having to see an adaption of this literature piece that teens have probably had to read in English class will send many of them running for the hills. Once they learn, however, that heartthrobs Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow are in it (and that it's been updated for the 90's), they may reconsider and want to see it.
For language and some sexuality.
  • ETHAN HAWKE plays a young man whose passion for a woman causes him to seek fame and fortune in an attempt to impress her (and he continues to pursue her -- and sleep with her -- despite the fact that she's engaged to someone else).
  • GWYNETH PALTROW plays a flirtatious, yet icy cold woman whose behavior was ingrained by her bitter aunt. She poses nude for Finn in one scene and sleeps with him in another despite being engaged to someone else.
  • ROBERT DE NIRO plays an escape convict (on death row for murder) who twice has an impact on Finn's life.
  • ANNE BANCROFT plays a rich, but deranged recluse who smokes and drinks while ruminating about how her life was ruined when her fiancé stood her up at the altar decades ago.


    OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
    Written by acclaimed English author Charles Dickens in the 1860's, "Great Expectations" has probably been read by nearly every high school student in the western world. It's also been adapted several times for the big screen, including David Lean's Academy Award winning version from 1946. While I must admit that it's been more than two decades since I last read the novel, I do remember immensely enjoying the adventures of young Pip (the lead character) and his otherworldly experiences with several interesting characters.

    Some moviegoers may be surprised, and perhaps upset, that director Alfonso Cuarón and writer Mitch Glazer haven't delivered a faithful interpretation of the classic, but instead an updated incarnation that's more suited for the 1990's. Keeping the essential plot, but transplanting it from mid 19th century England to late 20th century East Coast America, and renaming all but a few of the lead characters, the film makers may have had their own great expectations and intentions in updating this work. What they got, however, were mixed results, and many moviegoers may be put off by the film's lack of cohesiveness.

    The novel worked, of course, because it went into great depth about the characters, their stories and their experiences together. It was also mesmerizing for those of us who read it years after it was published -- it detailed a time and place that no longer existed. Not so with the film that's setting is relatively unimportant and that often feels disjointed as if we're watching short skits instead of a cohesive piece. While it's always the director's option to adapt renowned works any way they want (such as the recent hip hop version of "Romeo and Juliet"), and this story's theme of achieving fame at the expense of betraying others and oneself is certainly timeless, this film just doesn't work as a collective whole. Cramming the story into a less than two hour running time, the results are that the pacing is off and events often feel unrelated.

    The film does have some decent stand alone scenes and sequences, such as where Finn first meets Lustig, the escaped convict. Although having De Niro hiding underwater seemed a bit preposterous, especially considering that the boy is walking along through the ankle-deep water (what, is De Niro now amphibious?), the scene is wonderfully filmed and the encounter certainly grabs your attention. Just as soon as it starts, however, that whole element is dropped and the film quickly changes gears and heads off in another direction. While the novel does the same to some extent, it's not as an abrupt change. Of course, one's also supposed to buy into the notion that Lustig, a convicted murderer who's set to be executed shortly, could escape not once, but twice, from death row. Perhaps that was possible in the 1860's, but not today. That's a small objection, but it's still troublesome.

    Nonetheless, other bits of the film are nicely done as well. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Oscar nominee for "A Little Princess") nicely contrasts the lush, humid Florida setting to the cold, stark New York skyline as Finn himself changes from innocent kid to a more worldly artist. Likewise, production designer Tony Burrough's (Oscar nominee for "Richard III") creation of Ms. Dinsmoor's dilapidated mansion, Paradiso Perduto, is perfectly representative of her dementia. With all of the wedding arrangements still in place, but nearly engulfed by Floridian tropical overgrowth, the effect is quite spooky and lends itself well to the old lady's state of mind.

    Of course it doesn't hurt that she's played by Anne Bancroft (a five-time Oscar nominee with one win for "The Miracle Worker"). Truly looking like a crazed character (with lines of eye makeup trailing off the sides of her face like tiger stripes) and nearly salivating over the young Finn, she makes one wonder if this is what really happened to Mrs. Robinson (the character she inhabited decades ago in "The Graduate"). Sufficiently hamming it up, Bancroft is perfect for the role.

    The leads, played by Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, are also decent as their respective characters. Some sparks do fly when the two get together, particularly in their early scenes. Hawke ("Gattaca," "Reality Bites") does an okay job playing the young and embarrassedly awkward young man, although at times his character has the feel of the walking dead (except for a moment when he bellows in the rain much like you'd expect an early Tom Cruise character to do). Meanwhile, Paltrow ("Emma," "Seven") is very effective as the flirtatious, but ultimately distant and ice cold woman. Jeremy Kissner and Raquel Beaudene are also good in their smaller roles as the leads at a much younger age. Finally, there's De Niro (a six-time Oscar nominee and twice a winner) who plays two different aged versions of the same guy, although his first appearance as the escaped con is just a toned down Max Cady (his character in Martin Scorsese's remake of "Cape Fear").

    Director Alfonso Cuarón, who made his directorial debut with "A Little Princess," certainly knows how to effectively film individual scenes. Yet here he doesn't manage to create a cohesive piece that feels like it all works together. Separate scenes come and go, and while we understand how they fit together as we jump from one period to the next, it often feels disjointed. One certainly can't fault the original material (Dickens' version), but instead must look to screenwriter Mitch Glazer. Having already adapted another Dickens' tale, "A Christmas Carol" into the Bill Murray movie, "Scrooged," he seems to have a thing for the acclaimed novelist's works. Obviously, one can't blame him for mining some of the better written material from the past two centuries, but perhaps it's time for him to move on -- at least to another author.

    Unfortunately, we're left with the antithesis of the old saying about the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. While there are some decent technical bits and some satisfactory scenes, they just don't come together very well as a solid piece of film making. The end result is that one's always reminded that they're watching a film instead of being wrapped up and whisked away by the story. Some may also be upset that the film makers uprooted the original plot. To be honest, though, an accurate recreation of the story's original setting and characters probably wouldn't go over well with most of today's moviegoing audience. With the casting of young heartthrobs Hawke and Paltrow many teens, who otherwise probably would have passed on this should it have been a faithful adaption, may end up wanting to see this picture. While this is a decent film making attempt, it's doubtful it will catch on with most of today's audience. We give "Great Expectations" a 4 out of 10.

    Profanity and sexuality (and some nudity) will probably be most troublesome to some viewers. 15 "f" words and an assortment of others are heard throughout the production. There are several sexual/sensual encounters that are more steamy than graphic. Estella does pose nude for Finn and not only do we see several sketches of full frontal nudity, but we also see some nude glimpses of Paltrow. Due to the lighting or the way her body is positioned, however, we only see those brief glimpses. Beyond that, there are moderate amounts of drinking and smoking, as well as some brief bits of violence and bloodletting. Since many teens will probably want to see this film (based on the performers in it), we suggest that you take a look through the content to determine if it's appropriate for them.

  • Some people out on the street drink.
  • Finn brings Lustig "something to drink" that turns out to be liquor. The escaped con drinks that and additionally consumes some prescription pain killers the boy brought him.
  • Joe drinks a beer.
  • We see Dinsmoor drinking on several different occasions.
  • Finn and others drink at night.
  • Finn and Joe drink beers while talking with a lawyer.
  • Finn meets Estella, her boyfriend and several other people, all of whom are drinking martinis.
  • Finn opens some champagne, and we later see him walking down the street drinking another type of liquor straight from the bottle.
  • People have wine and/or champagne at several different receptions.
  • Lustig has a shot of liquor.
  • Lustig's leg is very bloody from where his prison shackles cut into his ankle.
  • A man is stabbed with a knife and we later see that his shirt is quite bloody and see blood dripping down onto his shoe. Another man has blood on his hand from that.
  • Lustig is an escaped con who was on death row for murdering someone. He then threatens to kill Finn if the boy doesn't bring him back what he wants.
  • Finn's sister, Maggie, either prostitutes herself or has an affair (Finn sees a stranger leave the house and then sees her sitting nude on the bed).
  • We learn that someone left Dinsmoor standing at the wedding altar years ago.
  • Estella, as a little girl, is quite snobbish and arrogant. As an adult, she plays with Finn's affections and then dumps him (the way her aunt taught her).
  • Estella, after nearly seducing Finn, leaves for several years to study overseas, but doesn't tell him.
  • Finn (as a boy) is suddenly surprised by Lustig who pops up out of the water and grabs him. He threatens to kill the boy if he tells anyone or doesn't bring back a pair of bolt cutters to free him from his shackles.
  • Finn once again meets Lustig who, it turns out, has several goons after him. They then try to get away from the thugs who follow them into a train station.
  • A man is stabbed with a knife and bleeds to death.
  • Handgun: Lustig removes one from his suitcase and puts it into his belt.
  • Knife: Used to stab a man who eventually dies from the wound.
  • Phrases: "Bitch" (what Joe once calls his wife who left him years ago), "Shut up," "Piss," "Geez," and "Loser."
  • Lustig suddenly pops up out of the water and grabs Finn.
  • There are a few moments accompanied by suspenseful, dramatic music.
  • None.
  • At least 16 "f" words (1 used with "mother"), 6 "s" words, 1 S.O.B., 1 hell, and 3 uses each of "God" and "Oh God," and one use each of "G-damn," "Jesus," "Oh my God" and "My God" as exclamations.
  • Finn sees a stranger leave their house and then sees his sister, Maggie, sitting nude on the bed (from behind), implying that she just had sex with that stranger (we see just a brief glimpse of the side of her breast).
  • As teenagers, Estella walks up to Finn so that his hand ends up between her legs (and under her dress). He then runs his hand up inside her thigh and eventually feels her crotch (covered by her underwear). There's some heavy breathing and sensuality (she appears to enjoy this), but nothing more beyond kissing.
  • As adults, Estella slowly strips down to her bra and underwear to pose for Finn. She then slowly takes them off (no nudity) and we later see her nude from a distance and out of focus. We also see many of his sketches of her that show full frontal nudity. We then see many glimpses of her during a montage that show part of her bare butt and the side of her breasts, as she sits nude on the bed (legs drawn up to cover any nudity) and lying on the bed (arms covering any nudity).
  • Later, we see the sketches that again show full frontal nudity.
  • Finn and Estella passionately kiss on his bed and she tells him, "I want you inside me." It's implied that they then have sex. Later, she gets out of bed and we see her nude silhouette from behind and then from her side (where we see the outline of her breast).
  • Ms. Dinsmoor smokes several times.
  • Finn and Estella also smoke several times.
  • Joe and Maggie smoke a few times.
  • Finn mentions (in voice over) that his sister, Maggie, left one night and never returned.
  • In addition, Maggie has been raising young Finn (we don't know what happened to their parents).
  • Romantically pursuing those who've hurt you in the past.
  • Trying to impress others by becoming something that you're not.
  • Lustig grabs Finn and threatens to kill the boy if he tells anyone about him or fails to bring him necessary provisions.
  • Joe playfully slaps Finn on the back of the head as he helps him get dressed for his date with Estella.
  • A man is stabbed with a knife and eventually dies from the wound.

  • Reviewed January 15, 1998

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