Giant (1956)

giant_6Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Judith Evelyn, Earl Holliman, Robert Nichols

Directed by George Stevens

Expectations: Low.

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Giant is a Texas-themed soap opera about a cattle rancher named Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) who marries a Virginian girl named Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) while he’s in town buying a horse from Leslie’s father. When they return as husband and wife to Bick’s ranch Reata, Leslie doesn’t quite fit in with all the Texas bigots. This, surprisingly, becomes an overarching theme of the film, but you’ve gotta sit through a whole lot of Texas-sized movie before it ever pays off. And — spoiler alert — even that payoff is less satisfying than I’d have liked it to be. In a film this long (201 minutes!), is it too much to ask that we actually build toward something worth waiting for? I guess if I was a hard-hearted racist jerk, it’d take almost 3½ hours to get me to understand why the film ends as it does, but I was already on-board right from the get-go.

What’s strange about the length of Giant is that it’s an epic unconcerned with being epic. There are moments when it slips into epic mode, but for the most part it’s a fairly straightforward chronicle of 30–40 years in the Benedict family’s lives. So why is it as long as it is? The answer lies within the familial relationships of the Benedict family. Allowed extra space to breathe, Giant presents more nuanced and layered relationships than are usually seen in films — especially one from the ’50s. But even with its extended length, it still feels like it’s breezing through the years and could have easily been longer if it wanted to be.

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The Indian Runner (1991)

Starring Viggo Mortensen, David Morse, Patricia Arquette, Valeria Golino, Charles Bronson, Dennis Hopper

Directed by Sean Penn

Expectations: High. I’ve really liked the other films of Penn’s that I’ve seen. How can you not be excited by that cast list too?


I don’t know the exact story of how Sean Penn came to be a director as well as a fantastic actor, but what it boils down to is this: the guy can make a movie. The Indian Runner is his first excursion into work behind the camera, and despite some minor flaws, it is a powerful and emotional film. Sean Penn heard the Bruce Springsteen song, Highway Patrolman (off the excellent acoustic album Nebraska), and was so moved by its story, that he wanted to write an entire film based upon it. The Indian Runner inexplicably does what it sets out to do and successfully translates the song into a film, expanding the narrative yet still remaining true to Springsteen’s two central characters, a pair of very different brothers.

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