Empire of the Sun
9/10 (Spielberg = velveeta)
This movie is a sentimental guilty pleasure, mostly because it’s also a spectacular epic.
I first saw it when I was a kid and I was enchanted despite its length, and haunted by it afterwards. Re-watching it in my adult years, I recognize Spielberg’s ridiculously maudlin sentimentality rearing its ugly head at various points, but I still can’t not love it, and I still can’t avoid almost crying at the very end. Call it nostalgia if you want, but I excuse “Empire” from my typically harsh criticism of Spielberg for a couple of reasons: 1) it’s not as offensively cheesy as some of his more recent work (“A.I.,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Terminal,” “Munich,” “War of the Worlds,” etc.), and such cheese is even forgivable in the 80s context of the film’s conception; and 2) because Christian Bale’s film debut is arguably the greatest child acting performance in the history of cinema.
I don’t need to go much into detail here. Bale plays James (“Jim” according to John Malkovich’s “Basie”), who is separated from his parents in the WWII-era evacuation of British-controlled Shanghai and winds up in a Japanese internment camp. The movie is magnificent on all fronts, but especially with respect to cinematography and score. The acting is impressive as well, with excellent performances by Malkovich, Joe Pantoliano, Miranda Richardson and Nigel Havers. Watch for a small role by a young Ben Stiller too.
That’s all you need to know. If you haven’t seen this it is arguably Spielberg’s best, and you’ve now been adequately warned about the pending sentimentality. But really, if you don’t know by now that Spielberg is synonymous with cheese, then you haven’t been paying attention.
28 March 2010