Saturday, March 5, 2011

To Kill a Mockingbird

The primary reason to watch this movie is Gregory Peck's performance. As an adaptation of the classic book, it has to make a lot of sacrifices in the transition. The book was a story all about growing up, as the main character Scout has a lot of different experiences while coming of age in a transitional period in American history. But the film couldn't or just didn't try to cover that whole thing in a couple hours, so they decided to focus on the two most memorable parts of the book - the trial and the mystery of Boo Radley. Although it feels like a kind of old fashioned movie for the time, that's at least partially the point, and for what it is it pulls off what it attempts pretty darn well. The re-focused story places more emphasis on Atticus Finch, and as I started this by mentioning, Peck does a fantastic job in the role. The movie could have still been enjoyable without him, but he brings such a dignity and power to the part that you can't help but be in awe of his quiet manliness most of the time. Brilliant casting and acting.

Besides Peck, the movie's fine enough. The kid actors aren't great, but their straightforward performances fit the old fashioned tone, and the rest of the adult actors are okay. It's odd seeing Robert Duvall playing the mysterious Radley, because while I'm sure it was effective at the time with him being unknown, he's so pervasive now that it clashes with the original intent of his appearance. The courtroom stuff really works though, despite the specifics of the case being a bit too on-the-nose to the point that it obscures the intention of the whole thing a bit. But director Robert Mulligan does most of his best work in those scenes, letting the tension and gravity of what's happening speak for itself without trying too hard to make it dramatic. And Peck does some of his best work as well in those speeches and interrogations. It all adds up to something that's not a perfect adaptation of the book, but a good companion to it at least.

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