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Ethan Hawke
Gwenyth Paltrow
Anne Bancroft
Robert De Niro
Chris Cooper
Hank Azaria
Josh Mostel
Kim Dickens

Alfonso Cuaron




Time: 113 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Romance

No one has every accused Ethan Hawke of having great charisma – though he has given some good performances in the past – but in this film he might as well be a walking corpse. I can't believe Uma Thurman married him and had his children. He must put all his passion into his real life cause it doesn't appear here. The film centers around him and his lust for Estella, played by Paltrow, and for painting, which he's supposed to be quite good at. The main problem is, he can't emote passion if his life depended on it. He's just too passive, cold and unemotional. He tries, he really does, but it just doesn't work. Paltrow is very mysterious and gorgeous in this film, but she plays nothing more than the object of Hawke's desire and that leaves her character quite flat. The only characters with personality are the ones played by De Niro and Bancroft. Unfortunately, they're not the people the film is about.

I generally like Paltrow and Hawke. They make choices that don't always work, but are ususally interesting enough to keep me involved. They obviously saw something in this film that I just didn't get. It makes me want to reread the novel to see what I missed. The story is quite simple: poor, talented boy (Finn) meets rich, hard-hearted girl (Estella). He falls for her the instant he sees her and tries to win her heart for the rest of his life – even though she rips it out and stomps on it every chance she gets. Finn figures once he has fame and fortune Estella will be able to look beyond his poverty and see him for who he really is – the man of her dreams. The problem with this plan is that she cares nothing for the things he's attaining to impress her. She's unable to be with him, because she's unable to be herself, to allow herself to be truly loved. She feels that she doesn't deserve it, so she marries a man completely wrong for her just to prove herself right, destroying both their lives.

"If this isn't love, I don't think I can handle the real thing."

To make matters worse, all his success goes down the drain when he learns he's not as talented as he thought he was. His splash and success in the New York art scene was bought and paid for by a common criminal he once helped escape from prison 20 years earlier. His sold out show was nothing more than a sham, a way for this man, Lustig (De Niro), to repay Finn for the kindness he showed a man in trouble. The fact that Lustig is soon murdered in his arms hours after revealing his secret, is the final nail in the coffin of Finn's hopes and dreams. Everything he ever wanted, all his desire and passion have brought him nothing but pain and sorrow. After traveling the world to escape his problems, Finn returns home to settle down to the life he should have lived to begin with. He encounters Estella with her young daughter wandering around their old stomping ground, her aunt's now decrepit mansion. They have finally become the people they always knew they should be. Maybe this time their friendship will grow into something lasting and honest.

The direction, music and set design are quite good and evocative of the feelings and ideas the film was trying to portray. I don't know if different casting would have made this a better film, but I doubt it. Hawke and Paltrow have chemistry though not enough to make you feel it in your toes. The script was often over-the-top and vague, not really giving you the information you wanted to know. De Niro and Bancroft were underused and at points both of their performances were slightly exaggerated, though Bancroft pulled it off better. I've really come to like Gwenyth in the past year, however if I had seen this film before the Oscars I would have been even more outraged that Cate Blanchett didn't win. It's not that she's a bad actress, in fact I think she can be quite wonderful. It's just she needs to be much more careful with her choices now. People will not be as forgiving if they have to sit through films like this to see her. If you're a fan of either Hawke or Paltrow, watch one of their other films, like GATTACA or SLIDING DOORS. GREAT EXPECTATIONS will only make you wonder why you like them at all.

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