Monday, June 20, 2011

Barry Lyndon (1975)

An In-between Kubrick Epic:
Lacking In Key Ways While Incorporating Exquisite Visuals And Music

- Widely-celebrated director Stanley Kubrick puts William Makepeace Thackeray's novel on screen in 1975's Barry Lyndon. The film chronicles the life of the mid-16th Century Irishman Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal) as he devolves from a simple pauper in the Irish countryside to the wealthy but unlucky nobleman Barry Lyndon.

Also unlucky is the fact that the story is generally uninteresting. While the script is fine with good storytelling structure and adequate dialogue, the progression of events that make up the story are just not very captivating. Unfortunately, the film's trail of minuses does not end here.

Barry Lyndon especially lacks in the way of its starring actor. Through Ryan O'Neal, Redmond Barry Lyndon is a wooden and generally emotionless character. Outside of the occasional crying spell, O'Neal's Redmond goes through the motions without hardly any expression in his presentation or emotion in his delivery. To add insult to injury, O'Neal cannot even squeak out an Irish accent. Not even a matter of the accent not being strong enough or requiring a touch up here or there, O'Neal just cannot do it and while attempting a passable Irish accent in some scenes he does not even attempt the accent in others!

Unfortunately, O'Neal is not alone when it comes to giving bad performances in the film: Leon Vitali is utterly unconvincing and weak in his role as Lord Bullingdon and Steven Berkoff (known for purposefully overracting on film because he despises the medium) is just as irritating as he always is with his inane but luckily brief presence as Lord Ludd.

As bad as O'Neal and some other supporting performers are in Barry Lyndon, just about every other major actor in film offers an impressive performance that serves their character well. A stand-out cast member for me was actress Marisa Berenson who is extraordinary in her emotionally broken Lady Lyndon character. Unlike her co-star, Berenson exerts plenty of feeling and emotion into her performance, leading to many eye-opening scenes involving her character. Other actors such as Diana Körner, Hardy Krüger, Frank Middlemass, Leonard Rossiter, and others also give effective and memorable supporting performances in the film.

In addition to the successful supporting performances, the film features other positive elements that go a long way towards balancing out the largely uninteresting story and handful of flat character acting. Often said of Barry Lyndon is how it looks like a painting come to life. This is an apt description; Barry Lyndon is wonderfully framed and colored - John Alcott surely deserved his Best Cinematography Oscar for this film and Stanley Kubrick does an amazing job painting Barry Lyndon on his silver screen canvas. On top of that, however, the camera movements are great as well. Not overly grand or in your face, camera close ups of the character's faces and zoom outs revealing the fullness of each shot thrive in Barry Lyndon. The sets, make-up, and costumes featured in the film are also top-drawer.

The music featured in Barry Lyndon is also a high-point for the film. Made up of spectacular classical pieces (from the likes of Händel, Schubert, Mozart, and more), the atmosphere and emotion of Barry Lyndon is greatly enhanced. Celtic music legends The Chieftains also lend their musical talents to the film with some truly wonderful Celtic tunes that contribute greatly to the diverse nature of the film's powerful musical dynamic.

For some, Stanley Kubrick can do no wrong. For me however, Kubrick can do wrong, right, and everything in between. With its stunning visuals, wonderful music, and good supporting actors, Barry Lyndon incorporates plenty of high-quality film aspects to be a mostly respectable and enjoyable film overall. At the same time however, with its generally uninteresting story and soulless main performance, Barry Lyndon was not a completely satisfying film experience and it ends up an in-between Kubrick film in my view.

CBC Rating: 6/10

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