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Lawrence of Arabia (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on December 7, 2012

I have a David Lean Problem.  I think he was a fantastic filmmaker.  Of the 13 films I’ve seen, not a one is a stinker.  Only Summertime and Blithe Spirit don’t do much for me, but even those are perfectly watchable and enjoyable in some respects.  And yet, not a one of them truly resonates with me, either.  The last three Leans I bought — Brief Encounter, Zhivago, Kwai — all ended up in the eBay pile.  I’d seen them before, I knew I liked them… I just didn’t feel like they belonged in my collection.  I couldn’t picture myself pulling one of those films off the shelf and saying “I want to watch this.”

So I knew that buying Lawrence was a risky investment.  I’d only seen it once, nine years ago.  I gave it a score of 8/10 at the time, but over the years my recollections of it inflated my Criticker score to 95/100.  That would put it in the range of “my favorite films” and indeed, when I hastily constructed a top 100 list in 2010, it made the cut.  But it isn’t a favorite film.  I hadn’t felt a burning desire to return to it.  But I knew that I at least liked it, and the price was right, so I took the chance.

And no, it isn’t a favorite film.  It doesn’t stir anything in me that would give it a personal connection.  But it is a Damn Good Movie.  Although it isn’t a favorite film, it is certainly my favorite David Lean film.  The cinematography is mind-blowing throughout… I don’t know if anyone else has made the desert so incredibly gorgeous, inviting yet forbidding, a mysterious and endless wide open landspace of shifting sand.  The camerawork is exquisite.  O’Toole’s performance is rightfully iconic, making Lawrence both intriguingly inscrutable and completely open… you feel entirely inside his head and yet you don’t know what he might do next.  Watching him handle different situations is a true experience.

And he gets wonderful support as well.  Normally, white actors in “ethnic” roles raises an eyebrow, but Guinness and Quinn both inhabit their roles so completely and convincingly that it never feels “wrong”.  And Sharif’s performance is right up there with O’Toole, to the point where you almost wish there was a whole other film about Sherif Ali.

The drama of the story is consistently engaging, always keeping its epic sweep in the realm of the personal.  No matter how much action is onscreen, or how big the stakes, it’s always about the compelling character of Lawrence, how he sees things, how he reacts to them, how he molds events and spurs things into motion.  Motion is a key part of the film, with so much movement from the left of the screen to the right that it feels like a constant journey.  It helps the nearly four hours melt away.

But is it a keeper, or another Lean for the auction block?  I’m going with keeper for now.  I still don’t envision myself pulling it off the shelf, but right now I’m so impressed with its impeccable quality and craftsmanship that I feel I need to have the option.  Rating: Great (92)


3 Responses to “Lawrence of Arabia (rewatch)”

  1. JamDenTel said

    And let’s not forget Jarre’s score. When I rewatched this I realized just how incredible a score it is.

  2. […] 114. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean) […]

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