Of Mice and Men (1992)
It's PG-13, but that's because the book is PG-13. While there is extra stuff than what is in the novella, everything that the novella has is in the movie, with the exception of the hallucinations. (I mean, it's a novella.) This means that we watch a guy getting his hand pulverized on camera. Rape is regularly discussed. There are multiple animal and human deaths on camera. (Okay, the animal deaths are off-camera, which is weird. But you see an animal corpse!) It's a well-earned PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Gary Sinise
How does this movie exist? Honestly, I had no idea that this movie was ever in theaters. Is this the product of extremely bad publicity or just another movie that was swept away in the ether? I had always heard about this movie. I thought it was a Hallmark movie or something. I never showed it to my class because people the poster looked kinda chincy. But this movie is a big budget, amazing adaptation of one of my favorite novels. It's got a great cast outside of the two leads. It's as impressive as an adaptation of Of Mice and Men could get, yet it fell under the radar.
John Steinbeck is my favorite author. I keep pretending it's Ernest Hemingway because that gives me an aura of mystery and education. But Steinbeck is my favorite author. The only novel that I've read of his that I didn't enjoy was East of Eden, but I love the movie of that one so I'm still giving him the points. But I've always written off Of Mice and Men as a movie. Honestly, it is a novella. It's probably my favorite novella. I'm not alone in that. I'm not saying anything all that revolutionary. Everyone kind of loves this book. (Except for one year, none of my students liked it. This year's class made up for it with everyone liking it.) But there's so little in terms of plot. There are six chapters in the novella and there are very defined events that happen in each chapter. The same thing carries over with The Grapes of Wrath. But Gary Sinise makes an absolutely fantastic movie. I remember that Gary Sinise and John Malkovich were doing this on Broadway. I think I had a vague memory of wanting to see this production at the Stratford Festival, but I didn't get a chance to see it. It's amazing to see that the movie translates so well. I suppose that movies always have to make sacrifices to accommodate a two-hour runtime. But Steinbeck's novella might be an interesting experiment. I know that novellas tend not to be the format of choice for many authors. They are, by-and-large, ignored by popular consumption. It's odd, but the novella is the perfect length for adaptation. I normally complain about slavish adaptations, but I really like what Sinise did with Of Mice and Men. Every single bit is in there. And, for once, it translates really well. The dialogue is a bit different, but that might just be something that comes with the visual element of filmmaking. The one thing that I'm actually kind of confused about is the extra stuff that was added. I know that the film is probably more of an adaptation of the stage play and perhaps that's something that's in the play itself. It does seem slightly clunkier than the rest of the material. There is one addition that actually does contribute a little bit. I know it might seem like blasphemy, but Steinbeck's female characters are rarely fleshed out very well. Giving Sherilyn Fenn something else to work with is an excellent choice. But I think the rest of the additions seem to be studio driven.
Why show what happened in Weed at the beginning? It might be to get the story started with a bang. One thing about the novella is that it starts remarkably slowly. Steinbeck spends the first two pages just describing the location and then it is two guys walking down a road for a while. I personally like that dynamic. I like the slow discovery of what happened in Weed, but I can see a movie demanding some action. Think about how artsy-fartsy the movie would have been if the credits just played over two guys walking down a dusty road for a long time and then they start giving some Waiting for Godot / Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead style dialogue. Yeah, those plays don't match the tone of Of Mice and Men, but it might have created the same effect. But I like that kind of stuff a lot. Of Mice and Men isn't boring in either format, but I think that a lot of the energy comes from the character dynamic. I guess I'm a little bit of a hypocrite in that regard because my favorite parts of the story are the parts that everyone likes. (The three parts you can probably guess.) I like these parts so much that I stopped typing this review to watch one of the scenes again. (One of the classes is behind in the movie so I'm letting them watch it right now. Boy-oh-boy, this review is going to be fresh. But the rest of the story is pretty intense because the relationships between George and Lennie are absolutely spot on. Sinise, I suppose, needed the confidence to have the weight of the movie rest on the relationships involved. While Malkovich isn't the hulking character I have in my head, he is absolutely pitch perfect for Lennie. It's not the voice I thought that Lennie would have. I often have a hard time reading portions of the book for the class because I'm always worried that my Lennie would be a bit inappropriate. But Malkovich as Lennie is completely committed to the bit and that's why it works. Part of the fault is that Sinise isn't a shrimpy guy, but I also think of a Michael Clarke Duncan as the size of Lennie. But I just watched Malkovich's last scene with Fenn and he's so good at this part. There was the cathartic uncomfortable laugh with how intense that scene got. (I can understand laughs, you guys.) He's so nuanced with Lennie. It's funny to think that people have a Malkovich impersonation because he is rarely that character. It's not like Pacino where there are shades of that. I stop seeing Malkovich really quickly in this performance. He's that good. Sinise, also, is performance-wise, the best guy to play George. It's so odd, because the one thing that the movie had to sacrifice was the juxtaposition of these two guys. (Golly, I'm ashamed to say, but it is the same bit that happened with Cable and Deadpool that they address in the movie. Both sets of actors embody the parts, even if they don't have the physical elements to back them up.) It's the right choice, ultimately. But I would have loved to see the towering Lennie in this movie because it is such a central element of the story. But Sinise as both director and star gets George. He's this brusque guy who is ultimately sympathetic. He's a jerk, but he needs to be a jerk. It's so hard to think that there's a character who can slap a mentally disabled character and still be considered the good guy.
The rest of the cast really sells their characters. I love Joe Morton and Joe Morton is absolutely inspired as a choice for Crooks. It had to be a temptation to not include Crooks. Sure, Sinise is trying to get the runtime out of a short novel, but Crooks could have come across as a pause in the action. When reading the novella, it's a pause in the action, but a necessary pause in the action. Sinise manages to capture the same importance with his scene. Morton kind of gets the short end of the stick because the scene does kind of fly in the long run. A lot of Steinbeck's chapter is description and the movie does speed that scene up. Again, I mention Sherilyn Fenn. I wasn't a big Twin Peaks fan, but I always liked Fenn's performance, even if her character didn't exactly click with me. But Fenn adds some stuff to the movie that I think is pretty necessary. Again, I love Steinbeck, but his female characters always make me roll my eyes. I mean, Curley's wife doesn't even have a name. (The Wikipedia article says that Fenn named her "Daisy." That seems a bit on the nose for me.) But Fenn infuses some very cool stuff without losing the fact that she is technically an antagonist. (Okay, not really, but I don't know how to describe her.) Curley's wife is a very hard character to get a grasp on. She is extremely sympathetic, but you are meant to dislike her. She's got a bit of that Merchant of Venice problem where you realize that the villain is ultimately the victim of the story. Fenn does this cool thing of reminding you that she can and will ruin everything for the protagonists, but it really isn't her fault. Adding stuff to that character is pretty daring and it is the one addition that I think works marvelously.
It's not a perfect movie, though. I can't believe this, but I think what few faults really lie here (besides the extra scenes) is the music. The music is the most blah faux-vintage nonsense in the world. I know it shouldn't break a movie, but I almost don't take the movie seriously. I guess I can also attach the cinematography to this as well. There's a certain expectation to what the Great Depression should look like. The camera and the music don't take any risks. Perhaps it is an attempt to ensure that the characters get the focus, but it seems like the ambition on the creation side is pretty low. Maybe that's why I thought that the movie was fairly forgettable. Critically, most people agreed with me. But it does look a little bit standard. I could chalk the whole thing up to just being pretty '90s. That's not the worst thing in the world, but it could explain the forgettabilty of the film. But the movie is pretty great. It's weird that I could only buy this through Amazon and it doesn't show up in my Movies Anywhere account. But I guess I shouldn't let popularity affect my opinion of a film.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.