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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's hard for the small screen to do justice to such a sweeping
cinematographic epic, but there is much more to this film than its
visual majesty. The film has one of the most beautiful and recognized
scores in the history of cinema, a fascinating subject in the person of
T.E. Lawrence himself, one of the most literate screenplays ever
written, and a wonderful supporting cast nearing perfection. It is a
shame that unless you take the time to buy the DVD and invest the
almost four hours it takes to watch it, you are likely to miss out on
one of the best films ever made. It is precisely because of its length
that it is seldom seen on TV anymore. The backdrop of the film is that
the British, in the midst of fighting World War I, are aiding the Arab
struggle for independence from the Turks since anything that ties up
the Turks accomplishes the British goal of destroying the Ottoman
Empire and thus aids in the war effort. T. E. Lawrence is first
enlisted to help advise the Arabs in their military goals, but goes on
to lead them in a series of stunning military victories that goes way
beyond what the British expected of the Arabs, and quite frankly, way
beyond what the British wanted. You see, the British had designs on
claiming Arabia for themselves after the war ends, years before it was
discovered that Arabia was sitting on the world's richest oil supply.
However, this is really an oversimplification of a very complex film. This movie is so multi-faceted that you could tackle reviewing it from several angles. To me one of the most fascinating aspects of the film is the complex relationship and contrast between Sheriff Ali (Omar Sharif), fellow tribesman and counsel to Prince Feisal, and T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole). When the two first meet Ali shoots down Lawrence's Arab companion who is taking him to first meet Feisel because the man is drinking from Ali's well and does not have permission to do so. An outraged Lawrence chastises Ali citing that Arabia will never be great as long as they war amongst themselves and that he is "barborous and cruel". Towards the end of the film, though, there is a reversal of roles as Ali tries to stop a massacre that Lawrence is not only allowing his troops to participate in, but seems to be genuinely enjoying. Ali is a man who has a good bead on who he is and what he believes. Not having this quality is Lawrence's greatest shortcoming. Lawrence either believes he is much less than he is or much more, depending on his latest exploits and who has talked to him last. Ali clearly sees this problem, and by the end of the film Ali is Lawrence's fast friend - in fact his only true friend. You see, Lawrence is being used by both the Arabs and the British. This becomes immensely clear when at the end of the film Prince Feisel, who has always seemed to be genuine towards Lawrence, says during negotiations with the British "Lawrence is a double-edged sword - We are equally glad to be rid of him, are we not?". By the way, the role of Ali has to be Sharif's finest hour as an actor. I always thought Dr. Zhivago was that finest role, and it is still a great performance, but this one is even better.
There are so many other themes going on in this film - the thin line between madness and heroism, the worth of a single human life versus the welfare of an entire army or a nation, the sometimes less than honorable motives behind those fighting for the honorable goal independence, the contrast between western and Arab values - that you could go on forever. That is why I strongly recommend this film. You'll probably come away with something a little different on each viewing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On the IMDb discussion boards a few years ago, someone asked what made
"Lawrence of Arabia" (LofA) such an important movie. The poster had
watched the film but was left scratching his head as to why this was
such a significant and revered movie. If you have seen the movie and
are asking yourself the same questions, hopefully this will help.
You might have wondered why this movie lasts almost four hours with an intermission. When LofA was made, going to the cinema to watch a movie was a bigger deal than it is now. It was commonplace for movies to last this long, and lengthy epics with a cast-of-a-thousand were the flavor. This is the only significant quality this movie shares with other contemporary movies of the time.
Obviously, this movie takes place in the Middle East. As far as western audiences were concerned, LofA might as well have taken place on the moon for all that was understood of Arabian culture and history in 1962. LofA transports us to an alien land with strange characters and values. To help tell this story, the movie is anchored by established actors like Sir Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, and Claude Rains. While Hawkins and Rains perform familiar characters, Guinness and Quinn paint credible portraits as Arabic royalty and tribal leader. That their characterizations still ring true today is a testament to their portrayals. Only in the last 10 years or so has western cinema begun to maturely portray Middle Eastern culture. Omar Sharif, one of the few actual Middle Easterners with a prominent role, demonstrates the complex beauty and brutality of this culture.
Of course the real star was newcomer Peter O'Toole. His was a risky casting and proved to be one of the best of all time. The real genius of LofA is its simplicity. Here is the man Lawrence, here is what happened, here's how he felt about it all. This is made possible by O'Toole. At the time, campy presentational acting was still the prominent style of movie acting. O'Toole was part of the new blood of method acting, made en vogue famously by Brando and "On the Waterfront", that was showing the audience, not telling, the emotional fabric of a character. Watch O'Toole's eyes on his close-ups. He communicates more depth and presence than any dialog could provide. He draws the audience in, includes them in his triumphs and despairs, all the while impressing the hope and ambition of Lawrence.
Steering the ship is David Lean. He makes nearly every minute of the movie matter. An important part of the story is the environment of LofA, the desert. It's such an integral part that Lean treats the desert as a character. Lean takes the audience to another world to show how the desert is a huge factor to the method of madness Lawrence finds there; why a man is killed simply for drinking from a water well, why Lawrence is the Giver of Life, why crossing the desert for gold is honorable, why it is important that Arabia be ruled by Arabians, not the British or Turks. There's a scene where Lawrence is crossing the Devil's Anvil. In that sequence Lean includes a shot of a dust devil (the tornado-looking thing) spinning fiercely on the baked ground. If this movie were made today, a CGI-artist would make this. Of course CGI didn't exist in '62, but nonetheless Lean patiently set up in the desert to capture this phenomenon and include it. It's a small color, but important the vast and vibrant world he communicates.
If this movie were made today, it would be filled with snappy dialog and probably focus on big action sequences. Lean makes every minute of the movie matter because everything that happens serves the characters. The movie lasts nearly four hours, not because that was the style of movies in that era, but because it takes that long to diligently explore the characters of Lawrence, Feisal, Sheriff Ali, and abu Tayi. Lean's direction and crafting was revolutionary. The movie stills holds currency in our modern culture because the movie's direction, acting, and characterizations ARE timeless and of no particular era.
There are a thousand variables that make a great movie, but if you're looking for the important qualities to latch on to, it's how this movie is timeless. This movie was a radical departure from the hammy "epics" of the time and set a nearly unreachable standard for every movie that follows. It was great in 1962, great today, and will be great in 50 years.
*** 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.
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.
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.
From this film's startling beginning right through to its end, this
film is a genuine masterpiece and the greatest film I have ever seen.
It is stunning, beautiful, breathtaking, stupendous, brilliant, awesomely made and incomparable with almost anything that has gone before or after. The film follows the World War One escapades of the eponymous Lawrence as he fights for the Arabs, and struggles across miles of desert.
There are so many people to be credited for the brilliance of this film, the film that is Steven Spielberg's favourite film of all time. Peter O'Toole's performance is incredible. He brings a mixture of arrogance, humanity and terrifying insanity to his performance. He is brilliantly supported by all of the cast but chiefly by Guinness, Quinn, Sharif and Quayle, who all produce performances of fantastic calibre.
There is also Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson who produced a fantastic script which create so many layers for the enigmatic central layers. Then there is F.A. Young's spectacular cinematography, which is quite probably the most beautiful that has ever been produced. There is also Maurice Jarre's brilliantly memorable score with one of the most famous themes that has ever been composed.
But the one person who is to be acclaimed the most for this wondrous achievement is the director, David Lean. His control of this fantastic picture is outstanding and his resultant creation is unbelievable.
A true achievement, spectacular and a must see, Lawrence of Arabia will blow you away.
Over 40 years have passed and this film still sets the standard for greatness in the epic genre. With a phenomenal cast, an insightful script, breathtaking cinematography and masterful direction by David Lean, this film is not to be missed. It also needs to be seen in a large format and deserves to be saved from the small screen DVD/video ghetto it's been stuck in for so many years. Younger viewers deserve to experience this film as David Lean intended on the extra large "silver" screen. After viewing this masterpiece you will never look at the desert again in the same way. The cast in this film is a master list for some of the greatest actors in the second half of the 20th century. Peter O'Toole's legendary performance as Lawrence will live forever as will the contributions of Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, and Anthony Quinn. An absolute must for any movie collection. My highest recommendation.
Along with "The Third Man" and "Lost in Translation", this is my
all-time favorite movie. "Lawrence" is one of those movies that is
ageless, in another word, gets better with each viewing. The film is
simply amazing, that holds few shortcomings. It has amazing shots of
the "clean" desert, Dirction by David Lean (whose known for his scale
in directing), great performances, and most of all, one of the best of
scripts all time (were talking about a script that stands next to
Casablanca's in greatness).
This movie is understated, and I am especially appalled that this movie is #28 on the "IMDB top 250" (especially considering that it ranked # 5 in AFI's top 100 movies). This is THE epic, and in saying that, also one of the best movies of all time.
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.
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