Playing a WASP is beyond the grasp of most contemporary actors.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Great Expectations" may be a stretch, but it's a daring one. Director Alan Cuaron creates and sustains a surreal atmosphere that allows his movie to be a fairy tale. Everything about this film is otherworldly, as if it were filmed from our imaginations as we read from the page. Enthralled, we do not care that nothing makes sense.

Finn (Jeremy Kissner), the orphaned boy, lives with Maggie and Joe (Chris Cooper) in a Florida marina culture where he wanders through the beauty of the shoreline sketching the fish and stars that he loves. He is drawing one day when the escaped convict, Lustig (Robert De Niro), bursts into his life commanding the boy to bring bolt cutters to cut his shackles. Finn responds to the man with an artist's sensitivity.

The scene shifts abruptly to an exquisite ruin of a mansion inhabited by Nora Dinsmoor (Anne Bancroft, indulging in the grotesque), a bizarre and wrinkled creature who was jilted by her fiance 26 years ago. The tables, still set as they were for the failed wedding, have frayed to ruin under decades of weather. For decades, Nora has nursed her rage at men. In search of vengeance, she has raised her niece, Estella (Raquel Beaudene), to "make men weep."

When young Finn meets Estella by the fountain, he absorbs the vision that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Years later (after growing up to be Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, they meet again in New York, where Finn's paintings of her have made him the darling of the month in the capricious New York art world. Estella is never out of his mind, but remains aloof, her aunt's cold creation.

All this unlikely business is sustained by filming so artful that the feel of a place says as much about the story as the characters do. Raucous young Floridians and pretentious young New Yorkers are defined by their surroundings. The New York subway is restored to our vision of what it once was. Finn's Manhattan studio/loft is just what we imagine it must be.

Unfortunately Ethan Hawke cannot project the soul of the artist promised by the young Finn. He can drink beer in Florida or ale in New York, but he can't make me believe he is possessed by beauty. He is a discordant note in a gossamer tale.

Playing a WASP is beyond the grasp of most contemporary actors. Their flat voices and self-revelatory gestures undermine their efforts to capture the nearly extinct breed. Gwyneth Paltrow is the embodiment of the WASP commandments: be elegant, sophisticated, urbane, intelligent, and reserved to the point of mystery. She can play one because she is one, and her extraordinary physical presence, entwined with her silences, is what makes her Estella the ethereal being she must be. With a tip of its hat to Dickens, this movie spins a spell of mood and imagination.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 491
Studio : 20th Century Fox
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h55m

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