Titanic (1997)

reviewed by
Rob Strong

A Review by Robert Strong

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Gloria Stuart, Kathy Bates, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton, Suzy Amis, Danny Nucci, Victor Garber, and David Warner

Directed by James Cameron
Rated PG-13
***** out of *****

Once every so often a film is made that transcends all bounds, breaks all records, shatters all conventions, and then makes new ones. The last movie to do so was STAR WARS. Twenty years later, one has been made again. It is TITANIC. Clocking in at 194 minutes, you would never know it from the way it is paced and presented. The film is absolutely astounding.

A brief plot summary will follow. Brief, because if you don't know it by now, you've been living in a cave on Mars with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears. A penniless artist (Leonardo DiCaprio) falls in love with a high-born rich girl (Kate Winslet). She is unhappily engaged to a snob (Billy Zane) and has a shrewish mother (Frances Fisher). They are all passengers on the famously huge, but ill-fated, ocean liner Titanic. The film also has modern day pieces, of Rose, now 100 years of age (Gloria Stuart), telling her story to a sleazy treasure hunter (Bill Paxton) who is looking on Titanic for a fabulously expensive jewel that Rose once wore on the ship. Clear? Great.

The performances are all uniformly excellent. The characters are real and vibrant. You know them and feel sadness and joy as they do. Of particular note are DiCaprio, Winslet, Stuart, and Bates. Director James Cameron really has created a triumph. All the pieces fall into place beautifully. He has wisely kept the ship and all the effects that go with it in the background, rather then make them the main characters. Still, they work, and work well. Plus, Cameron injects some moments of humor to keep the movie from becoming flat out depressing.

But, what I liked best about TITANIC were the little touches. The exquisite attention to detail. The shot of the ship's designer, Andrews (Victor Garber), as he winds the clock as his creation falls apart around him. The priest giving absolution as the ship turns upright and people fall away all around him. The mother putting her children to bed and the old couple together as water pours in around him. Benjamin Guggenheim, one of the richest men on earth, putting on his finest clothes and asking for a brandy as he and his manservant prepare "to go down like men." And, of course, James Horner's hauntingly beautiful score. The shots of the Titanic as it sinks, in the middle of the big, black ocean, even it dwarfed by the water around it. All of these are extremely powerful images that only add to an already wonderful movie.

I can't end this review without commenting on the last scene, which is my absolute favorite. It is so haunting and beautiful that it will stick with you long after you have seen it. If you are unclear as to when I consider the end scene to begin, it is when the camera begins to show all of Old Rose's pictures.

Now, I will list the film's flaws. Several moments of bad dialogue and some effects that you can tell are effects. Some people have criticized the plot as being formulaic, but as Roger Ebert said, "...you don't use the most expensive movie in history as your opportunity to reinvent the wheel."

But, then again, CITIZEN KANE had flaws too.

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