The English Patient (1996)

MADISON COUNTRY and you get this tedious, big-scale bodice-ripper 
about a man (Ralph Finnes), a married woman (Kristin Scott Thomas), 
and their adventurous romance in North Africa during World War II.  
Writer/director Anthony Minghella (TRULY MADLY DEEPLY) adapts the 
prize-winning novel that, in film form, begs the question:  how do 
you treat a movie fairly that's so obviously overlong?  Especially 
one that's told in flashback, meaning that the audience has way too 
much time to figure out what happens before it happens.  There are 
*some* surprises to keep you awake: an exciting sandstorm, a tense 
bomb-defusing sequence, and a very cool airplane crash.  Ms. Thomas 
gives a passionate, bare-all (and I mean, bare *all*) performance 
that miraculously resonates through the entire almost-three-hour 
running time. (Believing the early attraction between her and Ralph 
Finnes is another matter.  But, hey, they do generate some steam!)  

At the packed screening that I saw, butts were growing numb by the 
second hour.  A steady stream of survivors knocked knees and sent 
beer bottles barreling as they bee-lined for the lobby, or the 
bathroom, or the nearest store selling No-Doze.  Oh, sure, there's 
probably a lean masterpiece in here, somewhere.  A two-hour quickie 
that retains the epic scope, exotic flavor, and big, boo-hoo pay-
off.  (Or, perhaps, a four-hour version with easy-to-follow time 
shifts and characters who don't disappear five minutes after we 
meet them.)  Bottom line, THE ENGLISH PATIENT is a long sit.  The 
viewer has too much time to think about other stuff, such as why 
Willem Dafoe's character doesn't have anything to do, or if Ralph 
Finnes might make a good Indiana Jones, or how the filmmakers kept 
a straight face while recording those swelling, smothering strings? 
(Rated "R"/162 min.)

Grade: C

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted in triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: November 24, 1996

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