The English Patient

Feel free to disagree with me on this one!  🙂

The English Patient is a highly overblown World War II romance. Based on the novel by Michael English PatientOndaatje, the movie was adapted and directed by Anthony Minghella. It tells a rather choppy story that uses lots of flashbacks to flesh out (literally) the illicit romance between cartographer Count László de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) and the wife of his benefactor, Katherine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas).

The main story deals with Canadian nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche) tending to the badly burned body of de Almásy in an abandoned Italian monostary.   Supposedly, he doesn’t remember who he is and since he speaks English as his first language, they refer to him simply as “the English patient” and there is the title of the film. To little purpose, Hana has a relationship with Kip (Naveen Andrews), a Sikh who serves in the British Army sweeping mines, while David Carravagio (Willem Defoe) hangs around hoping to pin de Almásy as the third man responsible for his thumbs being cut off (he’s already killed the first two).

The back story is revealed through de Almásy’s memories. He was on an archeological and cartographic expedition in Egypt prior to World War II and they discover the “Cave of Swimmers” in the desert. The expedition’s benefactors, Katherine and Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth) join them and while Geoffrey goes off to spy, de Almásy and Katherine begin an affair that Geoffrey ultimately finds out about. As one might discern from the plot described above, everything is doomed to end badly.

The first major problem with the movie is that it is at least an hour too long. As I began to hope and pray that this overblown romantic drama might end, it continued to linger on and on and on. By the time the movie finally ended, I was perfectly content and happy that everyone but Juliet Binoche was dead.

The second major problem of the film is that both Fiennes and Thomas are terribly cold fish. The movie hinges on the viewer being able to understand and relate to their torrid affair, but they were both so unemotional that I just couldn’t get involved. Most of the other performances are okay. If the movie had been trimmed to a sleek 90 minutes I probably could have been able to tolerate the lousy romance more, but as it dragged on and on, I simply began to resent the filmmakers wasting my time with this tawdry and unbelievable little potboiler.

It is difficult to understand how it won so many Academy Awards. Hollywood loves long, overblown, beautifully photographed love stories. If you look back over the history of the awards, a huge number of undeserving films have been honored and this is certainly in that category. The Golden Globe Awards are usually a much better measuring stick of a film’s real values, but even they gave it two out of the seven nominations (the Academy generously gave it a whopping nine awards out of twelve nominations).

Another thing that Hollywood loves is steamy romances where either a husband or a wife is unfaithful. I have always failed to see the romance in betrayal. There are a great many times during the movie where Katherine could–and should–have revealed her affair to her husband. Rather, she prefers to go on hurting him, eventually driving him to suicide. I just don’t see any way that this behavior could be deemed as admirable or romantic. It is possessed of its own unique evil and yet Hollywood seems to love it. Perhaps it’s because this is somewhat a way of life in Hollywood and actors and actresses can relate to it. I find it impossible to see the betrayers as heroes or heroines.

I can’t honestly recommend this film. It takes nearly three hours (2:42 to be exact) to spin its tedious, tawdry tale and there is no return on your investment of time. Pass.

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