Movie Review – Great Expectations (1998)

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Movie Review – Great Expectations (1998)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Cooper
Year: 1998

This particular version of the classic tale is filled with befores.  It’s directed by Cuaron before he was famous, before Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity.  It stars Hawke & Paltrow before they were superstars, at the beginning of their successes.  It’s a 90s love story that capped off a decade of romantic dramas, before the 2000s and a switch to the darker.  Great Expectations is a modern take on an old plot, a Romeo + Juliet copy that does to Dickens what that film did to Shakespeare.  It’s a time capsule of a film, a representation of an era that now comes across as a period piece.  It can’t be judged as just a movie; it’s so much more than that.
Chances are you’ve at least been exposed to Great Expectations at some point in school, but you’ve never seen the story quite like this.  Finn is a boy from the Gulf, an orphan who lives with his sister and her man Joe, a poor boy who dreams of someday living the life of the rich.  He’s a talented artist, a boy with promise, but one who doesn’t have much of a chance.  But two events will change the course of his life.  One is coming across an escaped convict, a man named Lustig, who forces Finn to help him and then disappears.  The other is meeting the extravagantly wealthy Ms. Dinsmoor and her niece Estella, who become his patrons in a way, paying for his company once a week.  Young Finn falls in love with Estella, the most beautiful and cold female imaginable.  And when, years later, he travels to New York to show his art, they meet again, this time as adults full of desires, dreams, and desperate longings for the lives they do not lead.
It’s 90s wonderment from start to finish.  The clothes, the dramatic music, the artistic look at the everyday; it screams that decade and comes across as a last attempt to hold on to a changing culture.  Having grown up then, it’s enjoyable to watch that now, to see what used to be so trendy, so common, and so loved.  And you couldn’t ask for better 90s stars.  Hawke & Paltrow were in their prime, young adults whose whole careers were ahead of them, heartthrobs who had it all.  The side characters were actually better actors: Cooper, De Niro, Hank Azaria, Anne Bancroft.  But the two leads were perfectly over-dramatic and excellently angsty.  The beginning of the film reminded me a lot of Mud, which I loved, and I almost wish more had been set in the swamps of Florida that made Finn who he was.  They did carry a green color theme throughout the movie, especially surrounding Ms. Dinsmoor & Estella, which was a nice way to tie it all together.  And although I did feel a bit sleepy at certain points, the story kept my interest and was always driving forward.  The visuals were incredible and became the main reason to watch the film, but the package as a whole was one that I’m glad to have seen, both for momentary enjoyment and for a memory of a time period that I will always love.


My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆