|EMPIRE OF THE SUN (director: Steven Spielberg; screenwriters: Menno Meyjes/Tom Stoppard/based on the autobiographical novel by J. G. Ballard; cinematographer: Allen Daviau; editor: Michael Kahn; music: John Williams; cast: Christian Bale (Jim), John Malkovich (Basie), Miranda Richardson (Mrs. Victor), Joe Pantoliano (Frank), Rupert Frazer (Jim's Father), Emily Richard (Jim's Mother), Nigel Havers (Dr. Rawlins), Leslie Phillips (Mr. Maxton); Runtime: 145; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Steven Spielberg/Kathleen Kenned/Frank Marshall; Warner Brothers; 1987)|
how to tell a story and this one is worth
by Dennis Schwartz
Director Steven Spielberg ("Saving Private Ryan"/"Jurassic Park"/"Schindler's List") takes Hollywood to Shanghai for a rare visit, as his tame yet intriguing wartime drama of an upper-class British 11-year-old boy, Jim Graham (Christian Bale, age 13), stranded in Japanese-occupied China during the evacuation of foreigners at the onset of World War II and who is assisted by a pair of street-smart American merchant seamen forced into being scavengers, Basie and Frank (John Malkovich & Joe Pantoliano), with the amoral Malkovich character later becoming both the kid's protector and exploiter. Jim is imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp, along with the Americans. While a prisoner, the child survives by energetically doing creative projects. The kid no longer has a naive view of war, as he sees the war for the brutality it is and to escape his fate must do amoral things. The scenes in the prison are awkwardly shot and deter from the overall stunning photography by Allen Daviau, that gave it an A film look.
is based on J.G. Ballard’s
autobiographical 1984 novel. The challenging
morally charged film is adeptly written by Tom
Stoppard and the uncredited Menno
Meyjes, telling the story through the eyes
of the frightened child, who turns from a privileged
brat into an enterprising young man. The problem is
that only Jim's character is developed and the film
leaves little for talented actors such as Miranda
Richardson (an English friend of his
parents in prison) and Nigel Havers (a doctor
in prison, who befriends him) to do.
overlooked Steven Spielberg film is
ambitious, emotionally distant and glossy. It works
because Spielberg knows
how to tell a story and this one is worth telling.
REVIEWED ON 8/18/2014 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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