Great Expectations

on January 30, 1998 by Kim Williamson
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Screenwriter Mitch Glazer ("Three of Hearts") here takes on an interesting challenge: rewriting Charles Dickens' classic Victorian novel of the same name and making it play with contemporary characters for contemporary audiences. As his story proceeds, one begins to get the feeling that in the process a very personal story is here being told, something straight from the heart. One also knows going in that Alfonso Cuaron, who made "A Little Princess" so good, is at the helm, and his abilities at putting colors and faces together onscreen again plays to good effect.
   Alas, somewhere along the way the good intentions and fine abilities become lost in the muckery of emotional posing and artistic foofaraw. Perhaps the key fault lies with the casting of Ethan Hawke, who goateed or not too easily falls into a self-worship of cool: As the tortured artist Finn Bell, he doesn't so much emote as emope. As the love of his life, Gwyneth Paltrow is greater than but smaller than her part; she's a fine actress but not mesmerizingly beautiful, and, given the way her nothing-special character plays, her Estella really needs to be gorgeous to explain Finn's infatuation.
   Of the cast, the two that shine are the old horses Anne Bancroft and Robert De Niro. Bancroft's crazed-eccentric Nora Dismoor, who lost at love and so has armed daughter Estella against romance, is wildly overdone but just as amusing; De Niro's convict Lustig, who secretly works to change Finn's life, at first is the dangerous thug that De Niro has been called on to do way too often, but in later scenes he becomes a complex creation that even in cameo proves far more interesting than the protagonist. Starring Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anne Bancroft and Robert De Niro. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Written by Mitch Glazer. Produced by Art Linson. A Fox release. Drama/romance. Rated R for language and some sexuality. Running time: 106 min.
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