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|Index||45 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Still boyish Redford plays Jack Weil, a professional gambler who falls in love with a Swedish-American-Mexican (?) expat when turning up in Batista-era Cuba to deal the hand of his life. Tough luck, as the lady (Lina Olin as Roberta Duran, who delivers a worthy effort) is married to a local revolutionary. When Roberta and her husband Arturo are arrested by the regime, Jack's life takes a turn. Sounds like a good plot with all the ingredients that make for a great historic romance? Sure, but Pollack's handling of the matter is far from brilliant. For one, the set looks quirky at all times and no attempts at Film Noir lighting would change that. It actually starts with the art deco typeset in the opener, which is rather reminiscent of late seventies' Florida decadence than of pre-revolutionary Cuba. Too slick all the way, as are the character depictions. Unlike similar movies where the characters' inner turmoil is echoed by the chaos that surrounds them (most famously, "Gone with the Wind"), "Havana" never comes to grips with the setting it has chosen. From there on (and maybe even as a direct result thereof), the rest is mainly static, phoney and unconvincing, as is, most notably, the depiction of army manouevres. SPOILER: At some point, two cranky airplanes drop their bombs on an empty corn field, even prompting the character of Lina to wonder aloud who they're shooting at... Unwittingly hilarious. Partly reminiscent of "Under the Volcano" (Mexican revolution, decadence, impossible love affair...), though that was at least partly redeemed by a grand finale. And yes, it is clearly a (sad) remake of "Casablanca". And no, despite the heavy-handed hint in the dialogues, Olin is not Garbo.
This movie comes fairly close to being compelling viewing. It has all the
required ingredients in place to make it so: two great leads, several great
supporting characters, great location setting (even though it's a faux
Havana you are looking at - kind of like smoking a "genuine fake" Cuban
cigar (and yes, there really is such a thing)), lots of shiny American
automobiles of the late 50's,... and finally, you have the Cuban Revolution
itself, which was (and is) no small pebble in the pond.
But somehow, for me anyway, this movie just doesn't deliver the goods. Redford and O'lean have such great visual chemistry, but unfortunately this is all wasted, rendered null and void by insipid dialogue that sounds like it was written by a 12-year old. It's like they're all dressed up with no place to go. All style and little substance.
The supporting cast of characters is great: Raul Julia, Alan Arkin, Richard Farnsworth, Tomas Milian, Fred Asparagus et al, really do their best to add depth and character to this film.
But I think the movie is dragged down by what - to me anyway - is a rather uninspired telling of a love story between a cynical travelling poker player (Redford's Jack Weil) who just happens to be hitting Havana, Cuba for a big poker game right about the time of the 1958 overthrow of the Battista regime, and a not-quite-fanatic supporter of "la revolucion" (Lena O'lean's Bobby) who is married to a more ardent supporter of the cause (Raul Julia's Arturo Duran).
As other people before me have noted, their love affair seems a bit of a stretch, hard to believe, and made even worse by dialogue that sounds like two teenagers mumbling clumsy nothings between themselves.
I also had a problem with the overall look and feel of the film. I just didn't get any sort of electricity from the setting, which was filmed in parts of Florida and the Dominican Republic made to look like Havana and rural Cuba of the late fifties. Nor did I get any gut-grabbing feel for the spirit of the revolution itself - either pro or con. There is no appearance of a young Fidel Castro or a fleeing Battista, and the few military/rebel scenes look very staged and rushed, lacking in the production values that I would have expected from such a "big name" movie.
I hate to say it, but all things considered, I am forced to chalk this one up to being not too unlike an overblown "made for TV movie" - one that is fairly enjoyable to watch, but nevertheless won't leave any lasting impressions on you.
What potential for a good, if not great movie! On Christmas Eve 1958, a
solitary high-stakes gambler travels to Havana from Key West. His intent is
to organize a high-stakes poker game that will leave him well situated for
life. On the ferry to Havana, he meets the wife of a wealthy Cuban physician
who is smuggling arms to the revolutionaries. Upon arriving in Cuba, he
saves her bacon from discovery by the authorities, and promptly falls in
love with her. Havana on the eve of the revolution has an overdrive case of
the nerves. Secret police, revolutionaries, gamblers and gangsters; the
movie has them all.
At the helm is Sidney Pollock with actors Robert Redford, Raul Julia, Lena Olin, and Alan Arkin. And the movie falls flat on its face well before the ferry docks at Havana. And it never recovers. What goes wrong? In a sense everything, nothing seems to connect. The story lacks suspense, good dialogue, and romance. The actors go through the motions for a paycheck. The sets seem cheesy and false. What else? Give this movie a pass; it's not worth the rental.
This film only has 4 problems with it, that I can see. 1. Its raison d'être. 2. The screenplay. 3. The acting. 4. The directing. The actors, devoid of any visible passion, sleepwalk through their lines. The attempted "style" Pollack seems to be shooting for rings as tinny and artificial as Hollywood. The Left-loving and sun-damaged Redford does his best to act debonair, but maybe a bit too much. Lena is stunning as always, but her Prozac-induced acting serves only to make the film mildly amusing...and very mildly at that. The movie was doomed before Pollack ever yelled "action." It's as if a film school teacher hastily threw together a bunch of ingredients straight out of Casablanca, then instructed "only make it set in Havana...go!" and expected a masterpiece. Asking a viewer who's not a socialist himself to care about a cause as nefarious as Castro's Communist Cuba is a stretch for anyone with a modicum of patriotism and knowledge of history, no matter how beautiful the leading couple may try to be or how many gratuitous flesh scenes are thrown in. The parallels to the classic "Casablanca" are numerous and haranguing; from the film's city name to the suave man-about-town leading character who wonders if he should sacrifice his personal desires for a(n allegedly) greater cause, to his illicit love interest's being a married Swedish woman loyal to her husband's political passion. Besides being a shameless rip-off of an actually good motion picture, this film flops because it fails to make us care about anyone in it. Other than left-wing ideologues, who would ever feel moved to care about an adulterous gambler and a couple of communist revolutionaries? Victor Laszlo was on a valid mission--to combat the radical politics of worldwide domination, tyranny and murder. Rick and Ilsa fell in love before he ever found out about her marriage, and we cared because we felt they belonged together, yet understood the more compelling cause that forced them to remain apart. This film tried to copy a similar formula with the cause of Communist revolution, but we all know the results: a dictator far more murderous than Batista, who has kept his country mired in misery and mediocrity ever since.
Lena Olin (pronounced Layna O'lean and not Leena Ah-linh, the latter word of which sounds like a Swedish word for penis) is quite a character. She prances around the nice part of Stockholm in a wide brimmed hat with dark wrap-around sunglasses. Maybe she thinks she's Greta Garbo - or at least the new Greta Garbo. I have no doubt that she is good, but I would love to see just one movie aside from Kaufman's where her portrayal really grabs me. They could have been so good together, Lena and Redford. And maybe for you they will be. But maybe it's the editing and maybe it's just a weak story line, but this one just doesn't take off for me. I wish it would.
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