Oscar Review: The English Patient (1996)

Winner of 9 Academy Awards, The English Patient was a force to be reckoned with at the 69th ceremonies. Awarded the Oscars for Best Picture, Director (Anthony Minghella), Supporting Actress (Juliette Binoche), Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Original Score (Gabriel Yared), and Sound this film ranks a close second to Ben-Hur in the number of wins out of 12 nominations(Ben-Hur received 11).

The film traces the vivid memories of a dying man as he waits for the inevitable. While being cared for by a loyal nurse (Binoche) Count Laszlo de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes), a mapmaker for the Royal Geographic Society, recounts his time in North Africa during theturbulentt years of WWII.

Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her husband Geoffrey (Colin Firth) travel with Almásy as he hopes to map the Sahara. As the expedition moves on, Geoffrey is called away leaving Katherine in the mapmaker’s care. They are immediately drawn toward each other leading to a long, secret love affair that will ultimately lead to their doom.

As Almásy tells his story through horrific burns, an old acquaintance named Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe) makes his way to the Italian villa for rest and to try to learn the truth about a crime from the past which left him disfigured and vengeful.
*****
I must first admit that I’ve only watched The English Patient once and it’s been a couple of months, so my take on its quality is seen through that lens.

It is a good love story of two people thrust together by circumstance and destined to end badly. Clocking in at 160min was perhaps a bit long for this epic tale. More accurately, it feels that long. It’s not a killer to have a long movie but you definitely need to keep the audience’s attention the whole time. The story needs to be compelling enough to make viewers want to see what’s coming next and how it turns out. I just think it could’ve been tightened up a bit to be more user friendly. That said, I agree that it deserved to be named on AFI’s list of the top 100 Passions (#56).

I felt that the makeup for Ralph Fiennes which caused him to look as though he did, in fact, get severely burned in a plane crash was tremendous and should’ve at least received a nomination if not a win. However, yet again, I must humbly disagree with the Academy in its choice for Best Picture. Though I would rate this as a good film and is worth watching, of the three other nominees of that year that I have seen – Jerry Maguire, Fargo, and Shine – I think Shine is a far better movie with much more depth and emotion. The characters in Shine deal with many more facets of the human experience than in The English Patient and, not just because it has a happier ending, Shine is far more inspirational and moving. I am glad, though, that Geoffrey Rush snagged the Best Actor honors for his performance rather than Fiennes – who is an excellent actor in his own right.

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