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I'm doing this review despite not having seen the movie in a number of
years but what I remember best is some fantastic desert cinematography
from the point when "Lawrence" (Peter O'Toole) arrives in the desert
until about the last third of this 3-and-half-hour film. There are just
numerous spectacular desert scenes and, of course, this was a must to
be seen in widescreen. Fortunately, that has been available for many
years, even on VHS. Between the direction of David Lean and the
photography of Freddie Young, this is a fabulous visual treat, one to
Unfortunately, the story as well as the great visuals, seem to dissipate in the last hour-plus of the movie. It just kind of peters out, like Lawrence's desert campaign.
The acting is superb with the possible exception of Anthony Quinn, who overacts. Two of the all-time greats - Alec Guiness and Omar Sharif - also added life to this monumental epic story. This was O'Toole's first role, too, and probably his most famous and some think his best. After this film and for a short period afterwords, O'Toole was looked upon as the premier actor in the business.
For a film this long and with such little action, it's amazing it entertains as well as it does. For those who need some pretty women to aid in the story, forget it: in fact, there are NO women that I can remember. It gets by with the cinematography, O'Toole intense acting portraying a real-life vain, courageous, stubborn and obsessed Englishman trying to unite the Arabs to fight the Turks.
Another very memorable and impressive aspect of this movie was the soundtrack. Is it my imagination or were soundtracks (like this one) more important and remembered better than movies in the last quarter of a decade? The main theme song is played throughout the film and I still remember it 44 years later.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie has been the most praised movie by David Lean and is a favorite of Greek television which plays it every year especially during religious holidays. It is a memorable film and has many affinities with A passage to India in the sense that it presents the picture of an unconventional Briton who defying his prejudiced superiors sides with the native underdogs,underdogs from the point of view of the British of course, for, for their own people they are the elite. But differences exist: while Fielding in a passage to India makes a temporary alliance with a falsely accused Indian middle-class doctor, Lawrence forms meaningfull relationships with simple Arabs as the camel boys and the Arab whom he saves with danger of his life. Of course the main course of action is the relationship of the British agents with the indigenous ruling class. The movie is based on the life of a historical personnage T.E. Lawrence, a British archaeologist,spy, adventurer and larger than life personality.The historical veracity of the movie is questionable since as Steven Spielberg said in an interview, this movie genre is not a documentary but creative use of existent historical material- creative logistics comes to mind. Of course art always has to uplift the mundane realities of life, in that case of colonial power politics. As far as we know Lawrence was not the ardent arabophile the movie presents him to be and he was loyal to his country's imperial interests which did not identify with those of the Arabs, that is of the dynasty of Prince Feisal since no institutions as referendums were utilized to express the will of the average Arab, if such a life-form existed then. While the politics of the film is unreliable and murky, its' artistry is great with unforgettable performances of the major and minor protagonists of this drama that was the Arab Revolt.Lawrence, general Allenby, Prince Feisal, the hauitat chief Abu-tayi, the American journalist are all portrayed unforgettably, although I suspect that if one was to meet those personalities in private after having seen the movie(which of course is impossible) he would be disappointed. But of course the role of art is to create role models and icons not to copy mundane reality.
When I first saw Lawrence of Arabia, I was 16 and my teacher had loaned
it to me as he suspected that I might enjoy it, much unlike students in
his previous classes. I actually expected the film to be an incredibly
boring four hours in the desert, but my opinion had changed almost as
quickly as the movie had started. I was amazed by the characters, the
graceful and witty dialog, the never-ending presentation of amazing
shots, and of course, the character of T.E. Lawrence.
To understand that a film crew had to go out there and film rare and beautiful desert phenomena, without the aid of modern visual effects technology or even a SINGLE matte painting presented an incredible feeling. Before watching this film, I was under the impression that beauty was better recreated in artifice than actually filmed. I thought that only the skill of a matte painter could produce such beauty. No. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the desert, by the magnificent and colossal natural structures in Wadi Rum and the seemingly infinite vacuous space covering the land. It was difficult to believe that there are actual places on earth like these.
Second, the script was brilliant. I had a bit of trouble following the plot, but it mattered not; I was too busy admiring the visuals and the almost poetic dialog. On my second viewing, I had no trouble understanding the plot.
In short, this is perhaps the most beautiful film I've ever seen.
Though, I must warn: The movie is heavily fictionalized. The historical inaccuracies are numerous, however they don't take away from the film at all.
In fact, not long after purchasing the film for myself, I've done quite a bit of reading about the Arab Revolt, T.E. Lawrence, and the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I finally decided to watch the classic Lawrence of Arabia in my attempt
to catch up on film classics I have never seen. Now I don't for one
minute intend on talking down about this film. It is easy to see why
Lawrence of Arabia stands the test of time as a classic. The absolutely
stunning breathtaking cinematography, the incredible 'would be' special
effects that probably had to be done with man power and the thousands
and thousands of extras used in stunning battle scenes and traveling
across the desert. You can't get more spectacular than the scenery in
this film. Hands down a huge 10/10 for what they did with the cast and
scenery. The story is simple enough and based on a true story of World
War II British soldier who finds himself conflicted on who he is truly
fighting for when he becomes entangled with the Bedouin armies of
Arabia. I also realize that this is an epic and that being said and
being filmed in the sixties, historical epics were known to be lavish
productions. I watched this film on a 2 disk DVD and at the end of the
first DVD I was so pleased, I almost wanted to watch it again and again
and slap a perfect score on it. I would have been just as happy to have
it end right there. But as it turned out there was another disk with an
hour and a half on it adding the total running time to an outstanding 3
1/2 hours and I have nothing against that unless it's not necessary. I
found the last part of this film very unnecessary, it dragged, it
bogged down the story and I found it quite confusing. Yes I understand
that it brought about T.E. Lawrence's conflicted opinions about the war
but it just almost felt like an anti-climax and sadly brought the film
down for me.
Veteran actor in his screen debut Peter O'Toole plays Lawrence. I think O'Toole perfectly captures everything Lawrence was meant to stand for. O'Toole as Lawrence is conceited, young, naive, bull headed, and has great delusions of grandeur which he uses to win over the Arabians. On top of these less than desirable traits Lawrence has incredible charisma and leadership qualities and O'Toole is the same way. At first he seems almost smug and monotone but the more you watch him the more he electrifies the screen and you become enamored with him. I don't know if that's talent of a gift but either way he makes the film what it is. The incredible Sir Alec Guinness plays Prince Feisal, the leader of one faction of the Arabian army who leaves his men to the trust of Lawrence after becoming enamored with him. It's not a big role but when Guinness is on screen he makes it larger than life. Anthony Quinn is the opposite leader Auda abu Tayi whom Lawrence brings together with Feisal's men to take Damascus away from the Turkish army. Quinn is much like Guinness who doesn't need a lot of screen time to make an impression. They are both worthy of royalty. And Omar Sharif is brilliant and intelligent as Sheriff Ali who becomes Lawrence's wing man and friend.
The cast are all brilliant together, the story is of epic proportions and the direction which was Academy Award winning by David Lean is nothing short of brilliance. It might possibly be one of the best directed films I have ever seen. It's simply breath taking. But so much extra is added that I'm just not sure it was necessary. Lawrence becomes so conflicted and ends up leaving them and it just seems to contradict everything he had done. Perhaps I am just being petty about it and I didn't like the ending but nonetheless the last hour and a half was too much for me. Still I don't regret for a minute seeing it and I encourage everyone to see this because even now it's spectacular to watch, imagine how it felt more than 40 years ago. 8.5/10
This film is a classic and an important tool for understanding current upheaval in the Middle East. Aside from the unbelievable cast, haunting score, and superb acting (particularly O'Toole's Lawrence... even better in the director's cut which shows additional facets of O'Toole's character development), the film demonstrates the most effective tactics employed in asymmetrical warfare... hit and run strikes on soft targets like Aqaba and Turkish railroad/supply lines. These are the tactics currently being utilized in Iraq, and we could learn valuable lessons, namely that the Sykes-Picot agreement and its arbitrary national boundaries, combined with the dishonesty of the British has been a great factor in the ever-present unrest that has plagued the region since the days of Lawrence. Perhaps we would also be wise to note that a superpower has NEVER defeated a well-established insurgency. Even ignoring its intellectual provocation, this is an epic that effectively balances the sweeping vastness of the Arabian peninsula's awe inspiring deserts with the (certainly exaggerated) grandeur of the fascinating character that was T.E. Lawrence.
There are so many excellent insightful comments, here, I will only add
1. Like many others, I consider this the greatest movie ever made. 2. I consider Peter O'Toole's performance the single greatest acting performance in the history of cinema. 3. What never fails to amaze me is that it is an awesome epic with the brilliant dialog of the best, intimate play.
In "Amadeus", Salieri says about one of Mozart's pieces, "Displace one note and there would be diminishment". That's the way I feel about this movie.
A British soldier the titular Lawrence - and his Arab guide Tafas
have stopped at a desert well to drink. Through a mirage and the
shimmering heat, we see a black speck in the distance. "Turks?"
Lawrence wonders. Slowly, with minimal cutting, the speck resolves
itself into a man on a horse who rides up, lowers his weapon and shoots
dead the Arab. It is a beautiful, shocking and violent entrance and
given the time it takes, a surprisingly economical one. We meet the
second main character and juxtapose his character with Lawrence's. We
see the stupid and brutal nature of the inter-Arab feuds and squabbles
which sets up much of what happens later and the stupid and brutal
nature of life in the desert a desert which might be as important a
character as Lawrence.
But as the movie plays out, it also plays off what that scene reveals. We already have some inkling that lurking under the civilized veneer Lawrence wears something darker is lurking. We know he is something of a professional risk taker we've seen his demise, for instance, and the way his immediate reaction to learning how to drive a camel is to put spurs to it. But there is a masochistic streak running beneath it that may explain Lawrence's actions better: his trick with putting out a match with his fingers, despite the pain. It is significant that when he gets what he wants, an assignment in the desert that he thinks will be "fun" ("It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.") he blows out the match rather than snuff it with his fingers the jump cut to the desert is not only beautiful and beautifully done, it indicates that the desert fulfills the need for pain that the lit match had poorly filled. After Lawrence leads a spectacular raid on Aqaba, he reports, "We killed some, too many really. I'll manage it better next time." But he also reports having to execute a man: "There was something about it I didn't like . I enjoyed it." In the end, Lawrence and Ali have changed places: it is Lawrence who leads and participates in the bloody massacre of Turkish troops at Tafas now where in this review have we seen that name before? - and Ali who resists violence. But then, Prince Feisal had already previsioned what would happen with Lawrence. He tells the reporter Jackson Bentley, "With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable." And Lawrence learns that the internal squabbles of the Arabs are not the greatest problem he faces. Prince Feisal had already indicated this: "The English have a great hunger for desolate places. I fear they hunger for Arabia." Lawrence has been aware all along that his superiors have designs on Arabia (the historical Lawrence, by the way, had known of the agreement between England and France all along, but in the movie he learns of it only after Tafas, when the push for Damascus is planned.) and his work for the Arabs is designed to make them an English client state. Lawrence has been working all along for two goals, an independent Arabia and an Arabian client state.
But then, this just scratches the surface of what is going on with Lawrence's character. We see so much more: the shameless exhibitionism, the intelligence, the possible sexual orientation one wonders if his reaction to being raped in Deraa is similar to his explanation for the match trick his belief in his own indestructibility, his conflicted loyalties and his love for Arabia, whatever the questionable source for that love might be. The movie needs a great performance in the central role, and boy do we get that. Peter O'Toole was a little-known Irish actor, primarily on stage, before this role. He is, if a strictly hetero man may say it, magnetically gorgeous and as perhaps our mostly naturally flamboyant actor he is a natural for the part of "A poet, a scholar, and a mighty warrior (and) also the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum and Bailey." He gets the conflicts inside Lawrence and wisely never resolves them. O'Toole's performance here is perhaps the single most unfairly overlooked lead performance in AMPAS history. This man being competitive Oscarless is a crime.
The movie also has perhaps the best color cinematography ever Freddie Young gets the credit for that and a magnificent score, from Maurice Jarre. Along side O'Toole's great performance are superb performances by Sheriff as Ali smoldering sexuality in the love interest the always welcome Jack Hawkins and Claude Raines as Lawrence's British handlers, Anthony Quinn as an Arab leader of questionable loyalties and clear motivation, and Jose Ferrer in a brilliant brief turn as a Turkish Bey. The only performance that too me seems off key is Alec Guinness as Feisal. Not that Guinness is not a great actor, but perhaps because for me Guinness is the most British of British actors, even when made up as an Arab or a Tantooean hermit he seems like, well, a Brit made up like an Arab or a Tantooean hermit.
It is not a perfect movie. Lean's direction is overall fantastic no one handled epics like Lean. The battle sequences are beautiful, there are images (O'Toole in flowing white robes atop a train, for instance) that are perfect and iconic. But like all epics, including Lean's, there are stretches where the pace seems to lag unnecessarily and the movie drags. The ride across the Nefud should not feel like it is in real time, no matter how gorgeously filmed. But that's a quibble. This is a great film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I had been meaning to watch this film for quite sometime but the length
kept me from moving it to the top of my Netflix queue. However, I kept
hearing wonderful things about it so I really was looking forward to
getting a chance to see it. When the AFI Silver Theatre near me decided
to show a 70mm print of it, I decided I could not put it off anymore.
From all the things I had heard about this film I knew I would regret
it if I passed up the chance to see it in the theater. So, even though
the only time they were showing it was 7pm on Sunday nights and the
theater was over an hour away, I decided that I would see it. It was
well worth the lack of sleep I got that Sunday night and the grogginess
I was feeling all day at work Monday.
Clocking in at just under 4 hours the movie is still paced extremely well and never seems to slow down or drag. The story is always intriguing and the characters always interesting. Peter O'Toole does a marvelous job as T.E. Lawrence, he makes this over-the-top character seems 100 percent real like few other actors could do. The supporting cast is just as wonderful; Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, and Anthony Quinn all do a wonderful job portraying their characters. And even though this movie is about T.E. Lawrence, the supporting characters are just as important to the story and had the supporting cast not been just as wonderful as Peter O'Toole the movie would not have held me for 4 hours. However with wonderful acting all around the movie is a pleasure to watch, even once your backside starts to go numb.
The direction and cinematography of the film are some of the best I have ever seen. The desert landscapes look amazing. The battles scenes are brilliantly shot and editing together. However, the smaller, more intimate scenes are just as memorable as the larger than life battle scenes. Perhaps that is due in part to the larger than life character of T.E. Lawrence though. In fact the most memorable scene for me was the scene where Lawrence admits that what most disturbed him about killing wasn't the act itself but that he enjoyed it. Intimate scenes like this along with the huge battles scenes such as when the Arabs take Aqaba give the film its wonderful pacing that keeps the moving going.
Probably one of the most memorable shots in the film is when the character of Sheriff Ali is introduce, riding his horse through a mirage in the desert. Capturing this mirage on film could not have been an easy task and it makes for such a wonderful and beautiful effect that would probably be achieved digitally these days. This one scene those is just an example of how wonderful this film looks from beginning to end. This is one of those movies that you could take almost any frame and it would be a wonderful photograph that you could hang on your wall.
The musical score of this film is also simply amazing. Now, I don't really know a lot about music and I don't always take notice of the musical score for a film but you can't help but take notice of the score for this film. It always fits perfectly with the film and the overture at the beginning really puts you in the perfect frame of mind for the film.
Overall this is just a very enjoyable film and definitely was a pleasure to see at a movie theater as it was meant to be seen. This movie also, most definitely gets my "Seven Samurai Award for Excellence in Pacing in a Film Exceeding Two and a Half Hours." Usually I am of the belief that if a film clocks in at over two and a half hours it probably could have benefited from a better editor. This is one of the few films I have seen that breaks that rule, and it is always a joy when a film is able to do that.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lawrence of Arabia is oftentimes listed as one of the greatest films of
all time. Not only that, but many say Peter O'Toole's performance as
T.E. Lawrence is the greatest piece of acting ever to be captured on
screen as well. Being that the movie was made 45 years ago, I wasn't
going into it thinking I would agree with either statement necessarily.
Whether the four hour run time was too daunting to get my hopes up or
not, I knew that no matter what, I needed to finally see this film. I
was going to go for the ride from Cairo to the Middle East along with
the band of Arab tribes trying to take back their land from the Turks.
On a technical level, Lawrence of Arabia has few equals. Director David Lean has created something with true epic focus. There are no advanced computer graphics multiplying fake people into huge battle scenes, this had to be done with real extras, sweltering in the desert heat waiting for their opportunity to fight amongst the movie's stars. The scope is wide and Lean is never afraid to show the desert as a desolate wasteland because the shots are beautiful to behold. The British didn't understand what Lawrence saw in the sand, but viewing the landscape shots here, the audience can see the tranquility and beauty that it truly holds. This was a big-budget movie and it shows by the settings besides the desert. When we arrive in Cairo and see the excess with which the soldiers live; its affluence is on display. Not only by the material objects, but also by the soldiers' utter ambivalence to the fight while their Arab counterparts are trekking through the sun-ravaged desert to claim victory.
It is this juxtaposition between the British forces and Arab fighters that backbone the film. Yes, T.E. Lawrence is the focal point and his journey from army outcast to Arab liberator is the story arc we follow, but it is the fact that he tries to live in both worlds which really defines the course of actions on display. Credit does have to go to Peter O'Toole for his ability to grow his character throughout and display the emotion and conflict living inside him. Lawrence saw an opportunity to help the Arab tribes regain control of their land despite Britain's refusal to give them artillery. Even at this early moment, he might have suspected this lack of true support as a sign of future motives, but he was so focused on his cause and the fact that he could do anything he set his mind to, he just didn't care. When he finally succeeds with his first mission, he returns a broken man, having killed and seen things he never wanted to see. He knew it was all for the best, though, and needed to stick by his word of setting his new friends into a free land. Only when the men at Cairo, who once laughed at his expense, praise him with accolades and promotions does Lawrence first start becoming a man without a clear purpose. A man that was accepted by no one now finds himself loved by two distinct cultures, and must somehow cope with the success or eventually fall as a result.
Besides the excellent performance by O'Tooleintense, sarcastically humorous, and heartbreakingly real throughoutwe are also treated to an acting clinic from the supporting players. Omar Sharif is fantastic as the Arab Sheriff Ali who agrees to accompany Lawrence on his suicide mission to take a Turkish outpost. Sharif gives Ali a realistic progression from a man who cannot see a white man surviving anything in their future, to one who would follow Lawrence into Hell if asked. Anthony Quinn is also great as Auda abu Tayi, a leader of a tribe that can be bought by whoever offers most. His interactions with O'Toole are some of the best moments in the film because Lawrence always knows what to say to persuade Auda into doing something for his own interests and not for monetary gain, (although he still likes to take something as a souvenir for his troubles). Even Alec Guinness brings an effective performance despite playing an Arab Prince. There are many moments where the allusions to his later Obi-Wan Kenobi character come through making me smile, but the accent is hidden nicely into a British educated Arab speech that helps me forget he is as much an Englishmen as O'Toole is Irish.
In the end, however, it is the story which truly leaves a mark. During the runtime, I was slowly seeing some redundancies and wondering if an hour could have easily been chopped off without a second glance. Disappointment was setting in and I was thinking I might have to give it a 7 or 8 rating as a whole. Once the final scenes play out though, you realize why we needed everything that came before. It is Lawrence's success in battle that both leave him broken but also ripe for persuasion into continuing on. The British were looking for a way to have Arabs do the work but eventually swoop in and take the Middle East for themselves, and with Lawrence, they had their man to rally the troops. Lawrence was neither British nor Arab, but instead a man beyond his dreams and ideals. The Arab tribes would never be able to live in harmony for a peaceful unity, and the British were just waiting for the implosion to occur. When all is said and done, Lawrence realizes he is not the God that people, and himself, saw him as, but a pawn that has been played from the beginning. His sanity and drive for good is sucked out of him because while it seemed he was accepted by both worlds, he really didn't belong to either.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hard to believe that after 45 years of loving movies, I finally got around to seeing Lawrence of Arabia. As with many films that make a huge impact on me, I dreamt about it that night. I dreamt of flowing white silk robes, decorated horses and sand. Lots of sand. Many have already given a synopsis and cast list, many have listed the films assets. For me, after the experience (and trust me, at 227 minutes, it's an experience) I was left feeling stunned and empty, stunned by the depiction of the desert, empty from the realization that nothing within the dark expanses of human experience really changes. Yes to one reviewer who was not sure Lawrence ever existed. He did. A very complicated man, shy yet full of an odd bravado, Lawrence reveled in the drama of a land he loved but could not be part of. He sought adventure and when it came, was overwhelmed and ultimately disappointed that his life was not like the childhood adventure tales he undoubtedly read. The film tells his story in broad strokes, very strong characters surround Lawrence, whose character is played brilliantly by O'Toole who stays quietly charismatic (as well as physically beautiful) creating an enigma that is never really understood. You're left wondering how the hell he got away with what he did, yet amazed that it happened. The futility of war is tempered with the romanticism it creates. People come together in common causes, strong relationships develop, heroes emerge. Wars are full of such scenarios and inspirational tales. But this is at heart the story of a film flam game, a bait and switch played on a grand scale with an Empirical Western giant manipulating desperate peoples using one of their flamboyant yet influential soldiers as a ploy. This con game was the undoing of T. E. Lawrence and he spent the rest of his life in guilt, trying to escape his fame, changing his name, reluctant to accept profits from his memoirs and wondering if the adventure had been worth it.
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