Tag Archives: Ben Kingsley

Gandhi (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting for India independence.

The film follows the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) starting at the age of 23 when he gets thrown off of a train in South Africa simply for being Indian. After spending many years fighting for Indian rights in that country he then moves back to his homeland of India. It is there that he takes up the challenge of fighting for its independence from Britain by advocating for his followers to practice peaceful civil disobedience.

This film project took director Richard Attenborough 20 years in the making as all the Hollywood studios refused to back it. He also went through many different casting choices in regards to who would play the lead and at one time seriously considered Dustin Hoffman and Anthony Hopkins in the title role. Due to the difficulty of finding backers and other hurdles some of the stars that do appear here were offered their parts many years before the filming actually took place including Candice Bergen, who plays Margaret Bourke-White, who first got approached about it in 1966.

Yet the long wait proved to be worth it as the film comes close to being a masterpiece in just about every conceivable area. I was surprised too that for  such a long runtime it hardly ever seems slow and clips along at a brisk pace. The story is filled with many strong scenes even a few harrowing ones like the recreation of the Amritsar Massacre that is quite disturbing, but thoughtfully handled.

After making his film debut a decade earlier as the bad guy in Fear is the Key and then moving back to the stage Kingsley shines in his Academy Award winning performance . The rest of the cast gets filled with a lot of big names, but many of them have brief appearances that almost amount to walk-on parts. My favorite though was Trevor Howard, who plays a judge and despite have little dialogue and only 2-minutes in front of the camera still manages to make the most of it, which is what great acting is all about.

The film though lacks a complete oversight of Gandhi’s character as we only get introduced to him when he is already 23 even though the crucial formative years are during childhood and it would’ve been revealing and insightful to have seen some scenes of him during that period. His family life also takes a backseat. We see only one scene of him with his children and then they just disappear. He also discusses marrying his wife when he was very young, but a flashback showing it would’ve been stronger.

The film also has its share of dissenters who feel it’s biased as it only shows the positive side to Gandhi’s personality. It even instigated three novels, which paints Gandhi in a much different light by arguing that he fought for Indian rights while in South Africa, but not for the blacks and there’s evidence that he had the same disdain for the blacks in that country as the whites did.

Some also argue that his involvement in the push for India independence was much more minimal than the film portrays and that India most likely would’ve eventually broken off from British rule one way or the other had Gandhi existed or not. All of these counter arguments could have some merit, but I don’t think that was the intended point of the film, but instead the focus was on how peaceful non-violent resistance can make a difference and in that regard the movie succeeds nicely.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 6, 1982

Runtime: 3 Hours 11 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Attenborough

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Fear is the Key (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has secret motives.

Based on the 1961 novel by Alistair MacLean the story centers around John Talbot (Barry Newman) who finds himself inside a small town courtroom standing trial for the murder of a policeman that he did not commit. He manages to escape while kidnapping a woman named Sarah (Suzy Kendall) who he takes as his hostage. He evades the authorities only to ultimately end up inside the home of Sarah’s father (Ray McAnally) where another man named Vyland (John Vernon) hires him to operate a submarine that will salvage a cargo of diamonds housed inside an underwater plane wreck.

I never read the novel, but to me the whole thing comes off in a haphazard style where the twists aren’t interesting at all and only help to make the plot even more confusing and unfocused. The car chase sequence is genuinely well done to the point that it had me riveted and quite impressed with how it was shot and looking like one of the more realistic chases I’ve seen amongst the many that are already out there. Unfortunately to go from what initially seems to be a fugitive-on-the-run-flick to an underwater espionage, sci-fi thriller is not intriguing, but jarring instead and comes off like two entirely different movies crammed together with only the thinnest of plot threads to hold it together.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest disappointment though is when at the film’s midway point John confides to Sarah that everything that we’ve seen before has been staged and none of it was real. For that to happen though would’ve taken many different people working together to pull it off and it’s never explained how he was able to do that. For instance who gave John the blank bullets to shoot at the police officer to escape from the courtroom and why did the policeman agree to pretend he was shot if he really wasn’t and what was in it for him to get in on John’s elaborate scheme? None of this gets explained and only helps to make it even more absurd and ludicrous until you can’t take any of it seriously.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Newman is not strong enough actor for the part and conveys a rather transparent presence when he should’ve had the exact opposite effect. His appearance here is too similar to the one he just gotten done doing in Vanishing Point including driving around in a similar type of car making this film seem like an extension of that one. It also comes-off like typecasting and makes viewers think this is the only type of role he can play, which could explain why his leading man career pretty much tanked after this.

The film’s only interesting aspect is the appearance of Ben Kingsley in his film debut, which was his only movie role during the 70’s as he didn’t appear in another one until 10 years later when he starred in Gandhi. Here he plays one of Vyland’s henchmen who figures prominently in the climactic finish where they must fight for air after the oxygen in the sub gets turned off, which isn’t bad.

This is also a rare production that was financed by a British studio, but filmed on-location in the US. The result captures America through a European perspective, which makes the entire thing a bit off-kilter from the very beginning.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 26, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Tuchner

Studio: Anglo-EMI

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Turtle Diary (1985)

turtle diary 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They free the turtles.

William (Ben Kingsley) becomes fixated with the idea of freeing the sea turtles at the London Zoo and returning them to the ocean. Neaera (Glenda Jackson) starts to have the same dream. The two get together and with the help of the kindly zookeeper George (Michael Gambon) begin to execute their plan.

Although well received by the critics at the time of its release I felt the film never seemed to gel. The plot is too thin and there is no explanation as to why William got so worked up about the turtles being in captivity. I felt there needed to be something shown in his history or character to explain this motivation. After all there are thousands and thousands of people that go to this zoo each year and none of them seemed to get worked up about the same idea. Also, why just the turtles? If William’s problem is seeing an animal that is not in their natural habitat then why not free all the species in the complex.

The plan also goes off way too seamlessly. What are the odds that the zookeeper would be in agreement with them and pretty much do all the work for them in setting it up to the point that all they end up doing is driving the turtles to the ocean. The story would have been a lot funnier and exciting had they somehow had to do it all themselves and behind the scenes. As it is here it becomes almost a non-event that barely holds any interest. Also, I have never heard of a zoo that decides not to press charges when they find that the turtles have been stolen or not firing the employee when they find that he had something to do with it.

The way Neaera and William get together is equally uninspired. They seemingly just keep bumping into each other and through sheer circumstance find out they have the same motivations. I was expecting something a little more creative and humorous. Neaera’s attempts at getting William’s address is particularly forced and contrived. In fact almost all of the conversations that they have with the exception of one where Neaera describes a weird dream that she had is very ordinary. The dialogue they have while traveling to the ocean is the blandest and none of it reveals much about the characters who end up being pretty forgettable.

Watching them carry the turtles to the open water has no emotional impact at all. It is not even the climatic sequence as it happens with 30 minutes left of the film. The rest of the movie concerns William’s dealings with the other people in his flat, which is mainly pointless.

The screenplay was written by celebrated writer Harold Pinter, who has an amusing cameo as one of the customers at William’s bookstore. Pinter was famous for his cutting edge and provocative plays of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s many of which I found to be quite fascinating, but this thing seems to be the polar opposite. The story and execution is standard while lacking any flair or pizazz. I can handle low-key and subtlety and many times relish it, but there still needs to be something more to it. More quirkiness and humor was needed as well as some tension. The film as it is here is flat and seems to waist a potentially unique idea as well as its cast.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Irvin

Studio: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Available: VHS