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The English Patient (1996)

In love, there are no boundaries.

Directed by:

Anthony Minghella

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 160 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

If there’s one thing Anthony Minghella loves, it’s a sprawling romantic wartime epic. We saw it in 2003 with Cold Mountain and, seven years previously, we saw it in this one: the multiple Oscar-winning ‘English Patient’. And, like so many of the movies which have cleaned up at the Academy’s annual gongs bash, it’s the sort of flick that you’re likely to either love or hate. It’s a bit like ‘Marmite’, actually.

In a nutshell (I won’t go into every little sub-plot, because I’d be here all day), it’s about a European Count (Ralph Fiennes) who ends up the sole patient of a young nurse (Juliette Binoche) after his face is practically burned off in a plane crash at the end of the Second World War. While he lies in bed in an old Italian monastery feeling understandably sorry for himself, he gradually remembers how he got there – a process relayed to us viewers via a series of handy flashbacks. In the meantime, Nursey chases the affections of cheeky bomb disposal expert Kip (Naveen Andrews), Willem Dafoe skulks suspiciously around in the background wearing a pair of mittens (a prime reason not to trust him if ever there was one) and Kevin Whately does his best to stifle that Geordie accent of his.

The key question, of course, surrounds the true identity of our flaky-skinned protagonist: is he a war hero, or just an old Count? All becomes clear over the course of the mammoth 160-minute running time, but you need to be a pretty patient (arf!) type to stick with it, given that the high points are sporadic to say the least. Visually it’s a wondrous piece of work, there’s a really impressive scene involving a sandstorm, and one of the flashbacks into the murky background of Dafoe’s character turns into a real edge-of-the-seater – but, for every engaging instance of high emotion or top notch drama, there are three or four dragging scenes of mind-numbingly slow dialogue and oodles of outright nothingness.

The original novel by Michael Ondaatje is, by all accounts, an expansive piece of text in itself, so old Minger probably deserves a fair bit of credit for scaling it down into what we’re left with here. But, even with that in mind, I my interest levels came and went as the flick progressed. Emotionally it feels a little contrived, and as far as entertainment value goes it’s middle-ranking at best. It’s interesting, but unfortunately not on any consistent level.

It's Got: A nasty skin complaint.

It Needs: Patience. Lots of it.

DVD Extras Unlike many so-called “Special” Editions, this one actually is pretty special. On disc 1, Minger dishes out his usual brand of sagely observations on two separate audio commentaries (okay okay, so let’s call it 50% special, 50% self-indulgent). Then, take a peek at disc 2 and you get deleted scenes, Minger’s Masterclass, a CBC documentary on the making of the film, a little bitty about novelist Ondaatje, cast & crew interviews, a featurette on producer Saul Zaentz, an historical piece on the real Count, filmmaker conversations, the work of production designer Stuart Craig, and the eyes of still photographer Phil Bray (not literally, mind – you don’t open up the DVD case and find a couple of eyes just rolling around in there. That would be disgusting). Version reviewed: The English Patient (Special Edition) [1996] or The English Patient (Miramax Collectors Edition) (Amazon.com) DVD Extras Rating: 10/10

Alternatives:

Sack Lunch

Summary

The luvvies can’t get enough on it, but it’s fair to say Joe Public remains undecided – and rightly so. Still, there are worse ways to pass two-and-a-half hours.

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 12, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    The title of this film kept me away from renting it out for a long long time. Then, i accidently saw it on the cable, a scene where the plane crashed on the desert near the end, i couldn’t take my eyes of the whole time. It’s kind of strange, i had to rent it out and see the whole film. It seems boring at a glance but there is something about it that kept me interested and couldn’t take my eyes of the film. Thanks for the nice review.

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