Empire Of The Sun
One of Spielberg's most undervalued films. Often accused of lacking both emotion and a clear narrative. Unusual for a director who is very well known for not shying away from either in most of his films.
This is very much a film seen through the eyes of a young boy. So Jamie (or Jim as he later calls himself) it lacks a sense of a larger narrative, a clear understanding of the politics involved, and who is good and who is bad.
Jim develops a hero worship towards the Japanese pilots close to the camp he is interned in, and also to Basie. An American "adventurer" of sorts. Basie befriends Jim because Jim is useful to him,and at various points is ready to ditch him when he thinks that usefulness has ended. Jim doesnt see that, or refuses to, because he doesnt have anyone else to learn from, or care for him, in his mind. John Malcovich is impressive in a role that requires him to be both charming and calculating.
And so is Christian Bale as Jim. In essence he is already playing the kind of role that he would play later in his career. A character who isnt actually all that sympathetic, not in a traditional way that most kids in Hollywood films are. Yet you do care for him. Despite the fact that he talks all the time, trying to curry favor of people who might benefit him, often to extreme annoyance. Like the kids in The Goonies, but this time in an internment camp, malnourished with death creeping ever closer. His feverish talking is his brain constantly working, trying to stay alive. Despite his abrasive ways, A sudden emotional scene where Jim breaks down and says he can't remember what his parents look like hits like a hammer.
His fascination for aircraft takes on an almost religious devotion throughout the film. Every scene featuring an aircraft contains shots of immense beauty. From the sight of Japanese zero's in the distance, early in the film, to the close pass-by of a "Cadillac Of The Skies" much later.
In fact the whole film is a thing of beauty. Spielberg's veneration of David Lean's epic's was already shown in the crowd scenes of Close Encounters. Here he takes a film that Lean wanted to direct at one point and fills it with shots that are a loving homage to this director.
It's weird. Spielberg is that most American of directors, yet makes a film that very much feels English. (even the Americans in this film surely arent portrayed as particularly sympathetic). Spielberg eschews much of the "easy"emotional sentiment he is known for. And also leaves a hell of a lot unsaid.
One of the weaknesses of Spielberg is that he doesnt always trust the audience to "get his point", so he hammers it home with the subtlety of a sledge hammer. With Saving Private Ryan as the greatest example of that.
Empire Of The Sun allows the viewer the freedom of their own interpretation. While there is a narrative of sorts running throughout the film, many scenes feel like a patchwork. Like parts of a greater whole that we aren't prive of.
The style is very interesting, and puzzled many reviewers. It is both an unflinching look at the realities of war and interment (while not very bloody, it doesnt shy away from death and violence), but also an adventure story seen though the eyes of a boy, who was abandoned and NEEDS hero's, a father figure, the sense of a normal life. The internment camp essentially becomes his home, much like his house in Shanghai ones was.
But because much if this wasnt really SPELLED out like everything was in SPR, or the ending of Schindlers List. A lot of the film was seen as barren or confusing. I don't think Spielberg would ever take such a risk again.
John Williams' score is the icing on the care. Used quite sparingly, but with moments of genuine fight and almost religious beauty.
Both a visually stunning film, one of the directors best looking, and a film that invites you to actually ponder about what you've seen, and to...at a future date re-watch.
I could watch SPR again and be amazed about the visuals, and it's depiction of the horrors of war, but take nothing new away from it.
But I think watching Empire Of The Sun again would be far more rewarding.
I can't rate it yet, oneday maybe.