A family of fiercely independent Oregon loggers struggle to keep the family business alive amidst changing times.A family of fiercely independent Oregon loggers struggle to keep the family business alive amidst changing times.A family of fiercely independent Oregon loggers struggle to keep the family business alive amidst changing times.
This is an amazing story, with some harrowing scenes and really terrific acting. And it's based on a Ken Kesey novel that is one of my favorite books, a sprawling, difficult, layered up masterpiece of some kind, for its time at least, and for when I read it as a 20 year old looking for meaning in life. There are so many threads in the book, powerful themes and small ones, that get interwoven into a vivid, unashamed adventure-romance with interior explosions and characters clashing with nature and cultures clashing of cultures, it's really impossible to make a movie out of it.
But Paul Newman, as lead character and, yes director (stepping in when the original director left), has tried. The result is grossly unappreciated, because the strengths here make the flaws bearable. The flaws are clear. The casting is uneven. Lee Remick is a character from another movie plopped into this rough and tumble Oregon backwoods scene, and the second leading man, a kind of implied narrator to it all, is played by little known Michael Serrazin, a pretty boy who holds his own but is uninspiring.
Furthermore, the filming is straight on and meant to show what is happening more than contribute to the ambiance of the experience. There are scenes of machinery and logging that are impressive in their raw scale and masculinity, for sure, but that is partly fast editing at work, and amazing subject material. The rainy coastal landscape, the rambling house on the river, even the dirt bike race and the scenes of the little town all make you yearn for more intensity and involvement, visually.
The music by Henry Mancini shows the strain of this amazing composer as he moves from the light orchestral work he did in the 1960s ("Moon River," "Pink Panther," "Days of Wine and Roses," etc.) to something embracing country, rock and roll, and contemporary music being used so effectively in New Hollywood films. It's halfway there, but gives a falseness to some of the scenes that gets in the way of the gritty, emotional drama to it all.
And I mean emotional. Some have criticized Kesey's novel for overachieving. It tries to deal with every big issue there is in one book: individualism and love, above all, but a highly dysfunctional family, the new America of college and drugs vs. the old one of hard work and croneyism, raw beauty in the landscape vs. exploiting nature for commercial gain, and loyalty to family in all its layers of father and sons, sons and lovers, and workers as part of extended family. But that's what makes the book and the movie terrific. The scenes here of Newman doing anything, of Henry Fonda playing the tough as nails dad, and of some of the side actors in their rough daily working roles in the woods are right on. The hospital scene with Newman and Fonda is a small gem, and the famous scene of Newman trying to free his little brother (played by Richard Jaeckel) caught under a log under water is utterly unforgettable. Utterly.
There is a lot of filler her, lots of falling trees and bikers racing and a building of the toughness of this manly world. But hang in there for the other stuff. And read the book.
- Apr 9, 2011