Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

The English Patient - Miramax Collector's Series

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
6 out of 10
Extras Rating:
8 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: R

Starring:
Ralph Fiennes as Count Laszlo de Almásy
Juliette Binoche as Hana
Willem Dafoe as David Caravaggio
Kristin Scott Thomas as Katharine Clifton
Naveen Andrews as Lt. Kip Singh
Colin Firth as Geoffrey Clifton
Julian Wadham as Madox
Jürgen Prochnow as Major Muller
Kevin Whately as Sgt. Hardy
Clive Merrison as Fenelon-Barnes
Nino Castelnuovo as D'Agostino
Hichem Rostom as Fouad
Peter Rühring as Bermann
Geordie Johnson as Oliver
Torri Higginson as Mary

Special Features:
Commentary by writer-director Anthony Minghella

Commentary by Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz, and author Michael Ondaatje

Master Class with writer-director Anthony Minghella (includes deleted scenes)

The Making of The English Patient

A Historical Look at the Real Count Almasy

A Conversation with producer Saul Zaentz, Michael Ondaatje, editor Walter Murch, and Anthony Minghella

From Novel to Screenplay

The Formidable Saul Zaentz - Producer

Michael Ondaatje featurette

Film reviews

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1)
DTS 5.1 Digital Surround Sound
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 162 Minutes

Synopsis:
The English Patient is based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje. This film was originally released in 1996.

Near the end of World War II in North Africa, a mysterious pilot turns up badly burned from a plane crash. He doesn't remember who he is or where he came from, but he is transported back to Europe. As it becomes more and more apparent that he won't make the journey alive, nurse Hana volunteers to stay behind with him at an abandoned monastery in Italy until he expires.

As various other characters turn up at the monastery, the pilot slowly begins putting his memories together. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that his name is Count Laszlo de Almásy. As a member of a mapping expedition for the UK, he and his friends made detailed maps of the deserts of Northern Africa. However, his world was dramatically changed when Katharine Clifton and her husband arrived. Katherine and Almásy slowly began a relationship that turned into a full blown affair. But their love had impacts far beyond what they could have expected.

The English Patient is rated R for sexuality, some violence and language.

The Movie:
I missed The English Patient in theaters back in 1996, so this DVD viewing was my first time to see it. Despite the critical acclaim and winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards, I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag. Romantic dramas aren't really my cup of tea, but I did appreciate the epic cinematography, clever storytelling, and fine acting.

This story is well told in a series of flashbacks. Jumping back and forth in time could have been confusing and anti-climactic, but it ends up being executed well here. It's almost like there are two dramas taking place – one in the past and one in the present. Each of the tales has their own sets of characters that you care about and follow intently. One is the drama between Almásy and Katherine, the other between Hana and Lt. Kip Singh. Then there's a third subplot where David Caravaggio, played by Willem Dafoe, intends to kill Almásy. By jumping back and forth, the story never wears out its welcome and it keep you guessing what will happen next.

However, the story does have one fatal flaw – the hero and heroine are adulterers. Katharine flat out cheats on her husband and Almásy encourages her to do so. This is the central story of the film. It's not an honorable or romantic thing and it's not a solid foundation for any relationship. Because of this, it's hard to cheer them on to get together and it doesn't exactly make them sympathetic when things go wrong. Combine this with rather tragic twists and turns for the characters and you don’t exactly end up with a feel good movie.

Ralph Fiennes stars as Count Laszlo de Almásy. He's good looking in the film, but he doesn't do much more than brood during his relationship with Katharine. It's hard to understand what she sees in him. However, when we see him burnt beyond recognition, his performance takes a quite different turn. You end up sympathizing with him as he lives out his few remaining days. Kristin Scott Thomas is beautiful as Katharine Clifton, but her character isn't given much to do beyond longing for forbidden romance with Almásy and appearing naked. Juliette Binoche is excellent as Hana, the nurse who believes that anyone she gets close to will die. Her character goes through an emotional roller coaster ride and she probably shows more life and emotion than anyone else in the movie. Willem Dafoe is also great as David Caravaggio, the mysterious stranger who comes to kill Almásy. Dafoe has always been good at playing creepy characters and this one is no exception. Naveen Andrews is also noteworthy as Lt. Kip Singh. One scene where he must defuse a bomb is particularly suspenseful and one of the more memorable moments in the movie.

The English Patient is also beautifully shot. Every scene of the movie looks like a wonderful landscape portrait. No matter where they point the camera in the desert, they seem to find a great backdrop.

I think your enjoyment of The English Patient will greatly depend on your view of romantic dramas. While I'm not really into these kinds of films, I do recognize that it was well made and worth checking out. The butt-numbing 2 hour 40 minute running time will also make you glad that you're watching it on DVD and able to pause it.

The Extras:
Here are a few of the highlights included on this 2 disc DVD set:

Master Class with writer-director Anthony Minghella (includes deleted scenes) – In this feature, Minghella talks extensively about the scenes he deleted from the film. In fact, his introductions are frequently longer than the scenes themselves. Several are related to a story early in the film where an Arab tells Almasy about how he catches ostriches. He moves closer to them day by day so that they don't notice them until it's too late (an analogy to Katherine and Almasy's relationship). Another scene towards the end of the film is also shown where Almasy, lost in the desert trying to save Katharine, is led back towards civilization by an ostrich. It's a little weird and probably better left on the cutting room floor. Another scene later on shows Singh and Hana sharing their first kiss as she helps untangle him from tripwires in a mine field. Another scene later shows them riding on a motorcycle through Tuscany. These are the main deleted scenes. There are a couple of others, but they aren't as noteworthy.

The Making of The English Patient – This is an over 1 hour long documentary on the making of the film from CBC. It is extremely detailed and features intimate interviews with the cast and crew. They show some of the earliest rehearsals for certain scenes all the way up to the final shots. You see the preparation for the truck stunts in the desert, the ballroom scene, and more. It is very comprehensive and well made.

A Historical Look at the Real Count Almasy – This was one of the more interesting bonus features for me. I didn't know it, but there was a Count Almasy in real life. This documentary talks about his real life exploits mapping Libya, charting a land route to Cairo, and more. You also learn he had a lot more Nazi sympathies than shown in The English Patient. This one is a short feature but well worth checking out.

A Conversation with producer Saul Zaentz, Michael Ondaatje, editor Walter Murch, and Anthony Minghella – This feature is broken up into a million little parts. Each conversation is split up into about 7 or so videos covering specific topics. For example, Murch talks about digital cameras, Zaentz talks about how they almost got Sean Connery for this film, etc. There is a TON of video here. I found most of it to be rather dry, but if you're a fan of The English Patient you may find it all worth listening to.

The Formidable Saul Zaentz – Though this tribute video makes it sounds like Zaentz is dead, he's apparently not (at least according to IMDB). He's known for producing Amadeus, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, The Mosquito Coast, and more. He's praised here and shown in behind the scenes footage on the set.

Michael Ondaatje featurette – This is yet another feature where you are treated to a collection of short video interviews, this time with the author of The English Patient. He apparently was quite involved in the making of the film, so he has a lot to say about it. He talks about how he wrote the book, what it was like turning it into a movie, etc. If you read the book and enjoyed the movie, this is required viewing for you.

The Bottom Line:
If you like romantic tragedies, then The English Patient is for you. Otherwise you might want to bypass it for lighter fare.

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