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OF MICE AND MEN

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Ray Walston, Casey Siemaszko, Sherilyn Fenn
Director: Gary Sinise
Audio: Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: March 4, 2003

“You told him I was your cousin, George.”

“Yeah, well that was a lie. If I was a relative of yours, I’d shoot myself.”

Film ****

The literary work of John Steinbeck was helped me to enjoy reading books while in middle school. Of the novels I read, the one that I dearly love to this day has been Of Mice and Men. At the same time I was reading this book, a new movie version was about to be brought to the screen. It was perhaps the first time ever I had read a novel before directly seeing a cinematic translation, and director Gary Sinise, along with the legendary screenwriter Horton Foote (To Kill a Mockingbird) wove a stunning film adaptation, staying faithful to Steinbeck’s original piece, and at the same time creating a sweeping film for those who haven’t experienced the classic.

The story involves the friendship of George Milton and Lennie Small, two very different people who are indeed the best of friends. George is portrayed by Sinise, and Lennie is portrayed in a magnificent revealing performance by John Malkovich. The two find themselves in the middle of the Great Depression, and are as everyone else, desperate for work. They end up working under the wing of a strict landowner at the Tyler Ranch. Lennie, despite being mentally retarded, is a damn good worker just as George suggests. George is just as good of a worker, but supplies the brains of the two, as he has to speak for Lennie frequently.

Working under the endlessly scorching California sun, George and Lennie grow a liking to many of the fellow workers, but two separate forces can’t seem to earn their trust or respect. The first is easily Curly (Casey Siemaszko), who is the brutal and hateful son of the boss. He’s a relatively small guy, and takes a quick disliking to Lennie because, for starters, he’s a big guy. The other threat, though in a different light, is Curly’s Wife (Sherilyn Fenn), who’s a very attractive and nice woman, but her flirtatious appearance is what George sees as a threat, and orders Lennie not to even look at her.

Those who are fond of the novel know that the story, which is somewhat uplifting for its first two acts, ends with one of the most tragic ends of any classic story. Lennie’s minor flaws, particularly his habit of destroying everything he handles, result in putting his friend to ultimate test of true undying friendship. The fate of both characters is met in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes of any book, or movie, for that matter. For those who haven’t read the story, or seen a film version, I will spoil no more.

I, myself, have yet to see any of the earlier film versions of this timeless classic, but find this version to be a much endearing translation of the Steinbeck novel, as translated by two acting pros who know these characters like the back of their head. Malkovich and Sinise are remarkable as Lennie and George, and Sinise’s directing is sweeping in the way it captures the beauty of the California landscape, even during the troubled times of the depression.

Sinise’s Of Mice and Men remains, to this day, a grandly respectable interpretation of a timeless classic.

Video ***

I never got a chance to view the movie in its original DVD release, but both that and this new Special Edition from MGM both have the anamorphic touch, so my guess is the picture quality is not that different. I can say that this presentation is a much acceptable transfer, as it does a most splendid job of capturing the beauty of the cinematography of the movie. Most scenes are outdoor and in daylight, which transfer flawlessly. Some darker scenes don’t fare as well, but they’re just minor scenes.

Audio **

With a 2.0 surround channel offered, I really didn’t expect to be blown away. Since the movie is story and dialogue driven, you don’t really need a strong, superior sound range. The dialogue, for the most part, is very clear and well heard, but all of the sound action seems to be coming from the front area in some of the bigger sequences.

Features ****

Props must be given to MGM for deciding to re-release this movie under the Special Edition seal of approval. Featured is a running commentary by Gary Sinise, the original making of featurette, as well as a new documentary titled “In Conversation with Gary Sinise and Horton Foote”. Also included are screen and make-up tests, deleted scenes with director’s commentary, and a trailer.

Summary:

As timeless as the novel as always been, Of Mice and Men is a grand and entirely faithful cinematic translation, as genuinely perfected by Gary Sinise and John Malkovich.