Lionsgate // 1996 // 162 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 1st, 2012
In love, there are no boundaries.
Hollywood tends to ignore the literary avant-garde. If you're not selling at least tens of thousands of copies (preferably in an easily marketed genre), then you aren't going to able to cash that screenplay rights check. Which makes the adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient the most surprising literary adaptation of the Nineties behind Forrest Gump. I mean, Ondaatje's published a poetry book called The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-Handed Poems. While not as experimental as some of his generation (Salman Rushdie, for instance), Ondjaate has some serious literary credentials (including the Booker Prize for The English Patient). Indie giant Miramax took a serious risk giving the book the green light, but the result belongs among their most critically acclaimed films. The film is making its hi-def debut, and now fans can enjoy one of the more lauded films of its decade with improved audio and video as The English Patient (Blu-ray).
A man (Ralph Fiennes, The Reader) wakes up in Italy in 1944 with no memory of his name or what led to his presence in a hospital during a war. He's taken to a monastery by kindly nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche, Cache). However, they're not alone long as a troop of soldiers and a mysterious man (Willem Dafoe, The Boondock Saints) on a personal mission. We watch Hana and the burned man's relationship blossom between scenes of their lives before the war.
There are good movies and bad movies. There are also movies that defy such easy categorization. Rarely is everything that is said about a movie true, but in the case of The English Patient, the setting and story are so epic and encompass such important historical moments that the film contains multitudes.
On the one side are those who think the film is one of the most romantic of its decade. In the late Nineties, The English Patient was synonymous with overblown romance weepies, the bastard offspring of the Fifties melodrama infused with modern geopolitical flare. Stories of men dragged to the theaters and women spontaneously swooning circulated wildly. It's easy to see why. The young Ralph Fiennes is dashing, and Juliette Binoche is equal parts beautiful and aloof, while Willem Defoe is quietly menacing and primal. Their interactions are the heart of the picture. The globetrotting story of romance and intrigue is also sure to get hearts a racing as well. The mysterious men, the doomed love, and the backdrop of war mix together to create a heady atmosphere of love and loss.
On the flip side, The English Patient is overblown, unrealistic, and not likely to appeal to the cynical. It's runs almost three hours and considering the relative simplicity of its story can feel a bit too long in places. The whole setup where a mysterious man shows up under the car of a beautiful nurse while another mysterious man appears with questions feels a bit thin if you're not feeling generous towards the picture. Finally, yes, the film asks audiences to accept that Capital-L Love is really going to be on anyone's mind in the kind of crazy situations that these characters find themselves in.
Love it or loathe it, The English Patient gets a fine Blu-ray release. The 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfer is top-notch. Texture is strong in both short and long shots, with appropriate grain throughout. Color saturation is excellent despite the sometimes-drab landscapes. Some of the darker scenes aren't perfect, but overall this is a solid upgrade over the DVD. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track offers a similar upgrade. Dialogue is clean and clear, and well-balanced with the film's sweeping score. The surrounds get quite a workout in the battle scenes as well.
All the extras from the 2004 Special Edition have been ported over. They start with a pair of commentaries. The first features director Anthony Minghella discussing the movie, its themes, and productions, while the second brings him into dialogue with producer Saul Zaentz and Ondaatje. They're both excellent tracks that provide a wealth of information on the book, the film, and how it was made. There are four featurettes that cover everything from the adaptation of the novel to the real-life character played by Fiennes. Then there are interviews in the "Filmmaker Conversations" section with most of the heavy hitters involved with the film discussing various technical aspects in depth. That's in addition to a more typical making-of. Finally, there is a "master class" where Minghella talks about some deleted scenes as well as the film's trailers.
The English Patient is a well-crafted, beautifully acted epic of a film, but one that is still divisive. Softhearted romantics will enjoy a story about love and loss, while those less inclined will see an overblown and preposterous love story. However, both camps can agree that this is a solid Blu-ray, with improved audiovisual presentation and the same extras as its DVD counterpart.
Because of the audiovisual upgrade and impressive supplements, this disc is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 162 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes