Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Director: Richard Attenborough

Writers: Cornelius Ryan, William Goldman

Composer: John Addison

Starring: Sean Connery, Dirk Bogarde, Ryan O'Neal, Gene Hackman, Edward Fox, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan, Maximilian Schell, Hardy Kruger, Wolfgang Preiss, Walter Kohut, Liv Ullmann, Elliott Gould, Ben Cross, Denholm Elliott, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, John Ratzenberger

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Out of the sky comes the screen's most incredible spectacle of men and war!

Plot: A historical telling of the failed attempt to capture several bridges on a road to Germany in World War II, in a campaign called Operation Market-Garden.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again? Naturally.

It's been ages since I saw this last and it's better than I remembered.  Sure, it's got some casting flaws but overall it's a great picture. It's one of the last (if not THE last) 'kitchen sink' WWII spectacle films that we used to get back in the 60s and I love it.  This time I watched in on a much larger screen than ever before and it's just a gorgeous film.  Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography is absolutely stunning.

That shot is much more impressive when you see it blown up on the big screen, by the way.  John Addison's upbeat score sometimes feels a bit too much in that rally-the-boys propaganda kind of way but for the most part it works and he's got a great theme.  It's at its best when it gets somber.  There's a ton of action and it's all through the picture.  The quality of the stunt work, explosions, etc. is fantastic.  Fans of the WWII video games Medal of Honor and Call of Duty are going to recognize a few places.  It's clear that this film was one of the inspirations for both series.

If there's anything to take task with it's the casting.  They were clearly trying to bank on getting butts in seats by adding everybody that could that had any kind of box office draw.  For the most part they did a great job.  I don't recall Sean Connery or Michael Caine every hurting a picture.  The cast is largely stellar.  But then you get weak or over the top performances by Ryan O'Neal and Elliott Gould.  O'Neal feels like he's in a different film.  I like the guy but he sticks out in a bad way.  Gould is chewing up the scenery more than the cigar in his mouth.  He's there to provide some comic relief but he's just too much.  It's funny but the American roles feel a bit underwritten while the British ones are fleshed out more.  Having said that, James Caan has one of the best performances and scenes in the film.  You know the one I mean, when he forces a doctor to look at his dying friend. He takes a risk in doing so but it ultimately saves his friend and gives the film some emotional weight.  And Arthur Hill (as the medical officer) also delivers one of the best performances in the picture.

For as much as I dig this picture, one thing that gets me is how some scenes feel unnatural in how the characters play out. Like when Lt. Browning (Bogarde) explains the operation in the beginning of the picture.  When it came to his interaction with Major Sosabowski (Hackman), it's like the camera gives the actors their moments, one at a time, instead of blending them...if that makes any sense.  I could be that Hackman is overplaying it more than I think.  Regardless, it's the sum of what's great in this that makes it so good.  I remember very little about Operation: Market Garden from my school days and my early fascination (which never left me) with WWII so I don't know how accurate it is but as a 3-hour WWII spectacle film, it's a blast.  The Blu-ray (which I picked up this week for $5!) looks marvelous but beware that the sound during the dialogue is considerably quieter than the action scenes which will leave you frequently reaching for the remote to alter the volume.

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