We have a dream.
Not many people can pull off bringing a classic book to the screen with maximum success. It takes a well-written script and an able-bodied cast to transform an acclaimed work of fiction into an engaging motion picture. In 1992 actor/director Gary Sinise (with the help of Oscar-winning screenwriter Horton Foote) brought author John Steinbeck's classic tale to life with his critically lauded Of Mice and Men. Starring Sinise as the rigid George and John Malkovich (In The Line Of Fire) as the dimwitted Lennie, Of Mice and Men comes to DVD care of MGM Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
During the Depression of the 1930s, Lennie (Malkovich) and George (Sinise) are best friends who travel together in search of work on farms and plantations. Living under the stars and following railroad tracks, the men wander from place to place in search of a true life. George is the "brains" behind their operation—a smart guy who does all the talking and dealing when it comes to the work. Lennie is strong yet mentally slow, an ox of a man who is able to do double the work of a normal man. While both George and Lennie are good workers, they don't hold down jobs long due to Lennie's childlike mentality.
Good fortune (of sorts) smiles upon them when the men are given the chance to work at Tyler Ranch. Slaving away in the hot summer sun, George and Lennie meet some of the other co-workers including the elderly Candy (Ray Walston, Fast Times At Ridgemont High), the bitter African American Crooks (Joe Morton, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), and the malicious Curley (Casey Siemaszko, Limbo). Curley is the ranch boss' son, an angry guy that threatens any man who even looks at his wife (Sherilyn Fenn, TV's Twin Peaks). Unfortunately, Curley's wife takes to flirting with the men, showing off her summer dresses and making eyes at the desolate workers. Though most of the men know to stay clear of Curley's wife, Lennie innocently enjoys her attractive attentions. Warning him to steer clear of her, George hopes that Lennie's immature ways won't get them in hot water on the farm. But for poor old George, this will end up being wishful thinking.
Like most students, I read "Of Mice and Men" in high school under academic force. Except for the dweebs and the brainiacs, most students at my high school were either reading Stephen King or John Grisham novels instead of the classics (like we knew any better). At that age, who wants to read Shakespeare or Steinbeck when you can have zombies or legal thrillers instead? I remember enjoying "OF Mice and Men" more than the usual school curriculum, but that was about the extent of my Steinbeck experience. Flash forwarding years later, I finally sat down to read John Steinbeck's classic "The Grapes Of Wrath" on my own. I'm sad to say that I decided to read it based on the fact that I was a Bruce Springsteen fan, and at the time his album "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" (Joad being a main character in the Steinbeck novel) was usually spinning in my CD player. This time around, I really enjoyed Steinbeck's view of the California landscape and the hardships of its peoples. A few years later, I sat down and re-read "Of Mice and Men," then watched the movie. What a difference a few years can make! "Of Mice and Men" is now easily one of my favorite books, and after watching Of Mice and Men for a second time, I can also say that this movie is one of the closest and best adaptations of fiction I have ever seen. It's fairly obvious that this movie was a labor of love for Sinise (who is often quoted as saying "Of Mice and Men" was his favorite novel as a boy), and the picture perfectly captures the tone and spirit of the dustbowl era.
Unlike OTHER movie adaptations of classic novels (i.e., director Roland Joffe's cinematic bastardization of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"), Sinise doesn't try to do anything fancy or complex with Steinbeck's book. By the end of the movie there has been no extra character's added, no beefed up love scenes, or extended plotlines—instead Sinise shoots for purity, making sure that Horton Foote's screenplay sticks like glue to the original story. Sinise has filled the screen with wonderful images, be it the trains riding the rails or the sweaty men bailing hay out in the blistering heat. Equally impressive is composer Mark Isham's lush music score, a fitting companion to Sinise's direction.
Sinise's other wining plan was to assemble a cast that never overacts or deviates from the characters. I can't think of two actors that are more fitting for the roles of George and Lennie than Sinise and Malkovich, respectively. Both in size and stature, these two actors fit the parts and compliment each other well. Of Mice and Men hinges on each actor finding just the right tone for their characters. Malkovich's portrayal of Lennie is especially important; I suspect that it might have been easy to have gotten lost in a goofy characterization of the retarded Lennie, which would have made him too humorous and much less real. Both Malkovich and Sinse are able to pull it off with winning results. The supporting cast also works well, especially Ray Walston as the sympathetic Candy, an old geezer who is past his prime and knows it (after his old dog is mercilessly put out of its misery, Candy sadly states "I wish somebody's shoot me when I ain't no good, but they won't. They'll just can me"). Walston passed away in 2001, and after watching Of Mice and Men, I was reminded of how great an actor he really was.
Of Mice and Men can be seen as a movie about a lot of things: the value of friendship, the power of the human spirit, and sometimes the nature of angry vengeance. George and Lennie are two men who have but one dream—to live off the land and have a place they can call their own. Maybe the story has been popular for so long because everyone sympathizes with the characters, or maybe because we all see a little bit of ourselves in that very same dream.
Of Mice and Men is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks well above average. While the picture sports some imperfections (the image tends to sometimes look a bit soft with some dirt and grain showing up), overall this is a very clean and clear transfer. Colors are generally bright with black levels looking solid and dark. Minimal edge enhancement was spotted, and digital artifacting was never present.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (in both English and French). This soundtrack doesn't boast a large array of directional qualities, though is free of any distortion or hiss. Since Of Mice and Men is mainly a dialogue driven film, this 2.0 soundtrack supports the film well. Also included on this disc is a Dolby 1.0 Mono track, as well as French and Spanish subtitles.
Frustratingly, the only extra feature MGM has decided to include on this disc is an anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For such a wonderful movie, I have to admit that I was fairly disappointed with the lack of supplemental materials on this disc. It would have been nice if MGM had thrown on something more than a theatrical trailer, but I guess sometimes that's the way of the beast.
At around $15-20 you should be able to find Of Mice and Men at your local Best Buy or Circuit City. While the exclusion of extra features peeves me a bit, I still think this disc is worth the purchase. I've got a fond place in my heart for the novel, and I think that this adaptation of Steinbeck's classic is the best of its kind. Everything from the performances to the music works, with a story that is both moving and entertaining.
Of Mice and Men is free to go, but MGM is slapped with a fine for not adding on some welcome supplements.
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Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Trailer
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