Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Movie Review Monday~ 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (1962)
Directed By: Robert Mulligan
Starring: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, and Brock Peters
As promised, I am starting a review series on my top ten classic films. 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is my favorite film for so many reasons. I love the story, can identify with Scout (the character through whose eyes the story is told), and I get a warm sense of nostalgia from the moment that the first notes of that beautiful score begin to play. The entire opening sequence sets the pace for the film, lazy and a little disturbing...innocent yet mysterious. All of us who have grown up in suburban America have felt that sense of curiosity about our neighbors, a curiosity that inevitably becomes suspicion somewhere along the way.
The plot is well known, thanks to the wonderful book by Harper Lee on which the film is based. Scout and Jem are motherless children growing up in the depression era South. Their father, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer with a strong sense of morale and a solid reputation in the community. Amid an atmosphere of racism and poverty, he maintains a noble spirit of generosity that he firmly attempts to instill in his children. When he is called upon to defend a black man charged with the rape of a white woman, never once does he balk at the prejudicial backlash that will undoubtedly affect he and his family. He simply chooses to do the right thing, knowing that his client is innocent and accepting all the baggage that entails. Over the course of the summer, as the trial unfolds and his children come of age emotionally, he deals wiht the consequences of that decision. In the meantime, Scout and Jem make a friend, Dill, who shares their love of mystery. The three children become intent on catching a glimpse of Boo Radley, a reclusive neighbor whose quiet life has become fodder for town gossip.
Gregory Peck was born to play the role of Atticus Finch and in doing so, creates one of the 'superheroes' of film history. Never once do we feel that the role is forced or morally heavy handed. Mary Badham is a phenomenal recreation of the novel's heroine, Scout. She is a natural actress with a gift for dialogue. There are no weak performances in the film, but these two definitely make the largest impact. Additionally, Brock Peters as Tom Robinson and a very young Robert Duvall, as the reclusive Boo Radley, deliver beautiful supporting roles. The direction by Mulligan is monumentally great and never struggles with its subject matter. The feel of those hot, sticky days in Macon Georgia stays with you throughout the meat of the film, never relying on stereotypical elements to fuel the atmosphere of the South. The mood is organic in nature, slipping easily from tender moments of family life to suspenseful moments of tension without missing a beat. In addition, there are a few scenes that are so beautifully constructed, I never fail to shed tears even after multiple viewings. I won't spoil it by revealing these moments, but there is no doubt that the gorgeous score along with the perfect way in which these elements are brought to life, can be blamed for that reaction.
Needless to say, I feel that this movie is a 'must-see' for people of all ages. There are moments your children will love, as well as those sentimental segments that the adults will value. To say that it's a quintessential 'family film' is an understatement. To say that it's a great movie, would likewise feel like a tepid way of describing what I feel is the best film ever made.
My rating: 10/10 (But you probably knew that.)