At the close of WWII, a young nurse tends to a badly-burned plane crash victim. His past is shown in flashbacks, revealing an involvement in a fateful love affair.
Year 1, Day 193
BEFORE: Going back to the war theme that formed a few films ago, The English Patient is the Oscar film du jour. And to continue listing the awards for the film, The English Patient was nominated for 12 Academy Awards winning nine of them including Best Picture and Director. I don’t really know much about the film other than that there was an episode of Seinfeld about it.
AFTER: Here we go again with the flashbacks and parallel story lines unfolding. The English Patient takes a leaf out of The Last Emperor but not in a good way. Most of my problems with The Last Emperor surfaced again in this film although The English Patient did a slightly better job at balancing the two time periods.
Before I start ranting again, I would like to make it perfectly clear that I don’t have a hatred of flashbacks. In fact I usually find films with flashbacks and multiple time periods to be more entertaining because it requires more thinking to piece everything together. (Lost is a great example of this.) But this doesn’t mean any film or TV show with a flashback gets an automatic approval and if they drop the ball, it’s quite disappointing.
The English Patient suffered from my main problem with The Last Emperor: the back and forth seemed random and it left me confused as to why it was necessary. It started off quite well as you see Count Almásy’s (Ralph Fiennes) plane shot down and almost burned alive. Having survived, but with major skin damage, Almásy is taken to an abandoned monastery by his nurse Hana (Juliette Binoche). Once they settle in a bit the flashbacks begin as you go back in time to see Almásy going on expeditions with his financiers Geoffrey (Colin Firth) and Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) among others. While The English Patient did a much better job at balancing the two different times (Almásy exploring and Almásy bedridden) I was still left with a sense of wanting to stay in one place. Every time things seemed to be going somewhere, it would cut back to “present day” where most of the characters seemed pointless.
The title of the film, The English Patient, is a reference to Fiennes’ character which should mean his character is the main focus of the film. It is, but his nurse Hana’s own story of loss and love seems just as important. Both stories alone, Almásy’s and Hana’s, are interesting and entertaining, but when they are combined, they fight against one another for the focus of the film. So whenever there was a flashback, it wasn’t as if I was continuing the same story and seeing how things turned out the way they did, I would be entering a whole new character’s world with different relationships and events to be looking at. There is some overlap between the two stories, namely David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), but to me, Hana’s entire love story with Kip (Naveen Andrews - who also starred in the aforementioned Lost by the way) was not only unnecessary, but damaged the more important and intriguing story of Almásy’s deeds.
While I wouldn’t go as far as Elaine and say I hate The English Patient, it certainly isn’t making the top of any of my lists. Ralph Fiennes does an excellent job and his character (and how he changes) is very exciting to watch. There are hints of greatness there especially at the beginning and the end when some of the two different stories come together. But for the majority of the film I was left questioning why they kept coming back to Hana and the “present” storyline. In terms of the Best Picture nominees, I would say Fargo or Jerry Maguire would be better options for viewing. I haven’t seen Secrets & Lies or Shine so I can’t comment on those.
RATING: 3 out of 5