Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee
Like watching a very old painting dry… Yet somehow it ain’t boring!
There is nothing about Barry Lyndon which is appealing to me. Everything is against it, and if it didn’t have Stanley’s name attached to it then I probably would never give it the time of day. It’s basically a three hour period drama which moves at a snail’s pace and is full of dull, stiff and unlikable characters. So, why did I like it? Why did I not find it tedious and boring? These are questions I’m still asking myself and it appears to be the hypnotic nature of Stanley’s films. 2001: A Space Odyssey is painfully slow and has no memorable characters (except HAL) yet it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen.
Let’s start with its beauty. Even the haters can’t deny the sheer gorgeousness of pretty much every shot. The film opens to a haunting classical score and throws up a landscape shot which could easily be mistaken for an oil painting. Every landscape/exterior shot had my jaw on the floor at the sheer beauty of it, and I’m not one to get all excited over scenery. I don’t like to use the word ‘perfect’ because things rarely are, however that’s exactly the word I’d use to describe some of the shots. Just perfect. The costumes and sets are wonderfully lavish too and do a great job of plunging you into the life and atmosphere of those times.
Even though the film is a whopping 180 minutes there wasn’t one moment when I was bored. Perhaps some parts dragged on for a little too long in the war half, but I was never fed up and the film didn’t feel like it was three hours long. Not a lot happens but it somehow remains engrossing. It moves at its own pace and it seems to work well at creating an atmosphere that evokes its period.
It’s a very cold film and all the characters seem distant. Even the title character doesn’t give much away, and lady Lyndon must say about four lines throughout the entire film! Something about it remains captivating though and not all of it is devoid of emotion. In fact, the scenes involving Lyndon and his son were very moving and quite powerful. It was also interesting how the film was told in two parts and both involving battlefields of one kind or another.
Unfortunately, Ryan O Neal’s performance is a little lacklustre. His Irish accent was all over the place and he didn’t entirely convince in the role. The rest of the film however is quite exquisite. It’s easy to see why people don’t like it, because even I’m not quite sure what I found so appealing about it all. It is a technical master class though, and whilst it may be a step down from 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange it is still a great film in its own right. Stanley returned to breaking the mould with his next film though, which could very well be my favourite from his filmography.