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Good, but not quite Steinbeck, 27 March 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Grapes of Wrath is really an excellent movie – fantastic actors and casting, and cinematography, especially for the time it was made. Seeing it after just finishing Steinbeck's book, though, I was a little disappointed. Even though it's a great movie, it's not so great of an adaptation.

Throughout the film, I never really felt Steinbeck's message really coming across, except in certain points when direct dialogue was used from the book. Steinbeck showed the story of many people in his novel, and how important it was for them to come together as a community, while the movie focuses simply on the Joads. There is hardly any interaction between the Joads and the other Okies at all. In the end, Ma talks about surviving, and how that was all they had to do to make everything better. Steinbeck never wanted the Joads or any other Okie to just survive, he wanted them to come together as a whole and make sure they got their rights. The movie shows that just surviving makes everything better. Ending with the government camp (craftily renamed "wheat patch" rather than "weedpatch") gives the sense that there are decent people, and the Joads will have no problem finding decent people and a place to live. Ending with the boxcar and the flood and Rose of Sharon's scene (which is understandably not in the movie) shows that the hard times were hard from over, but if they stay as a community, they can try to make things better.

All of this being said, the movie has some really good references back to the book. Most of the actors managed to completely get their characters down. My main problem was with Al, and how much he was downplayed in the film. (And I felt a little hurt when they completely forgot about Noah). Ma and Tom and Casey, however, really did manage to find their characters. The scene between Ma and Tom right before Tom left was the scene that felt the most true to me. I was upset, though, that the only characters allowed to be seen and developed through the movie were the Joads, and every connection they had with other families, like the Williams and the Wainwrights, did not exist. The connections between the families was what brought out the book's message, and made it about more than just the Joads. It made it about everyone.

I understand the context this movie was made in, with the Depression barely over, the memories and events of Steinbeck's novel still fresh in everyone's minds. A complete replica of The Grapes of Wrath would have a been a bit too harsh for everyone then, and honestly impossible with the technology of the time. I think I would just ask in a remake for them to try to get it a little better.

It really is a fantastic film, especially for the time period, and on its own it's great. In terms of displaying Steinbeck's message, though, it does miss the mark.