"Much ado is made about the dual ending of classic film "The Magnificent Ambersons," which was originally made by Orson Welles. The remake is more or less faithful to the original material, but some bad casting (Jennifer Tilly is the worst example), weird scripting, and a rather ambiguous tone scratch it up.
George (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is the youngest member of the rich Amberson family, including his grandfather, mother, uncle and aunt. He's been raised as a prince, and he acts like one too -- spoiled and imperious. He falls in love with the beautiful Lucy (Gretchen Mol), the daughter of automobile innovator Eugene (Bruce Greenwood). Unfortunately, Eugene has always been in love with George's mother Isabel (Madeleine Stowe).
Jealous and disapproving of the "new money" people, George sets out to wreck the budding relationship between his mother and Eugene. He succeeds -- but at the cost of his own relationship with Lucy. Still imperious, George continues on his way without knowing that the growing urban sprawl marks the decline of the Amberson family into poverty...
It's always interesting to see how society changed in the past, as it does here and "The Forsyte Saga." And that's actually the most interesting part of "Magnificent Ambersons," not the family saga. Unfortunately, we only get an occasional glimpse of this. The rest of the time, it's merely more of George's tedious tantrums, and his family worrying about money and relationships.
Alfonso Arau seems to have been sleeping during the production of this -- he adds a sparkling grandeur to the early scenes. But the color fades quickly; pretty soon it's just a slow decline, with little to hold your interest. The only thing he adds to the production is an emphasis on the incestuous feelings between Isabel and George. It's icky, and feels like it was just pasted in.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is a good actor, but only in the last eighth of the movie do we develop any liking or understanding of his character. Greenwood is fairly good, and Stowe is a convincing wilting lily, although she doesn't do much else. Gretchen Mol brightens every scene she's in, and William Hootkins (as hearty Uncle George) is a lovable teddy, but Jennifer Tilly ruins every scene she's in with a screechy, over-the-top performance.
It's interesting to see the decline of the old-money dynasties in favor of the "riffraff." But the hit-and-miss casting and lackluster direction makes "The Magnificent Ambersons" almost as tedious as Rhys-Meyers' tantrums."
Long-awaited and disappointing
lady_fushia | Oregon, United States | 02/12/2002
(2 out of 5 stars)
"... delayed release of "The Magnificant Ambersons" for a year after its completion, and now we know why.
Perhaps the editors hoped in post production to create what Director Alfonso Arau could not realize on film.With his quirky direction, Arau aimed for the sublime and ended up with something ridiculous. His take on "The Magnificant Ambersons" not only fails to redeem Orson Welles' 1942 vision, it fails on the level of fundamental storytelling.It wasn't the fault of the story.
Boothe Tarkington's novel about the decline of the land-wealthy, prestigious Amberson family in the face of modernization, the Industrial Revolution and growth of the middle class was a grand American tale.It wasn't for lack of money.
The production had a lavish budget. It was shot at an old estate in Ireland and no expense was spared constructing a set that looked like turn-of-the-century Indianapolis.It wasn't the fault of the actors.
The wonderful cast included such talented actors as James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Madeline Stowe and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.Arau gave most of them too little to do.
In the role of Major Amberson, a Civil War veteran made good on land speculation, Cromwell should have given us more insight into the actions and past of the Ambersons - how that led to the warped, rigid value system of his grandson, Georgie.Georgie Minafer (Rhys Meyers) is supposed to have charms that buffer his dark tendencies to be bigoted, narrow-minded and incestuous, he acts like a brat with attention defecit disorder, always flailing about.
His character never gets to move beyond one whining, pouting note.
Thus, when circumstances force a change on his part, the change seems wholely implausible.Before its release, star Madeline Stowe bemoaned the production, which probably wasn't the right thing to do.In hindsight, though, I can understand her complaint.
Although her character is meant to charm two men in her life - the lost love of her youth (played by Greenwood) and her son, she seems almost robot-like.Stowe complained that Arau emphasized the incestous tendency between Georgie and his mother, Isabel, but frankly no heat or sparks of that kind were generated.Again, I blame Arau because I have seen Rhys Meyers deliver marvelous performances in "Gormenghast," Ang Lee's "Ride With the Devil" and lesser known Irish gems such as "Michael Collins" and "The Disappearance of Finbar."I recommend you rent one of them..."
A pretty face does not a masterpiece make.
NyteScrybe | Missouri | 12/06/2004
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Being a period movie afficionado, I had great hopes for this movie. However, I regret to say...do not waste your money. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has been excellent in other movies I have seen, but his acting in this is so overblown and forced it is painful to watch, and I am not using this wording frivolously. There were actually a couple of points during the movie where the acting was so pathetic I could not look at the screen...much like pretending to not notice when someone slips on the ice, just to save you both from the embarrassment. Rhys-Meyers' good looks did nothing to take my attention from his terrible performance.
Gretchen Mol's performance was wooden and with a plastic smile plastered over her face during most of the movie, she seems to simply be walking her way through the movie, as if she can't wait for the "Cut!" so she can make a break for the caterer's buffet. Madeline Stowe's performance was acceptable as Rhys-Meyers' mother, but not up to her usual standards. Jennifer Tilly gave her Aunt Fannie character a valiant try, but she is terribly miscast and could not seem to find it within herself to even produce tears during any of her apoplectic fits.
I am SO disappointed in this movie. Luckily, I rented it before buying it on Amazon and am thankful to have only lost the rental fee instead of purchasing it to sit unwatched on my DVD shelf until it turned to dust. It may have made a decent drink coaster, however... "
The "restored" version of the Orson Welles 1942 script
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 02/10/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Since the point of this version of "The Magnificent Ambersons" is to "restore" the scenes that were lost when the study cut the Orson Welles version from 148 to 88 minutes, it becomes impossible to judge it by a different standard in which we pretend this was the first time Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer Prize winning book was brought to the screen. Ironically, if the point is to emphasize those lost scenes, then viewers need to watch the 1942 version to help you recognize the scenes when they crop up; they mostly have to do with the way modern things like the automobile change the face of the town in which the Ambersons rule. Of course, most films suffer in comparison to the original Mercury Production.This 2002 production is handsome enough, although it lacks the distinctive cinematography and art direction of the Welles' film. Bruce Greenwood cuts a suitably dashing figure as Eugene Morgan and Madeleine Stowe makes a tragic enough Isabel. My problem with this version is the same as it was in the original: I can never really accept the idea that Lucy Morgan, well-played by the fetching Gretchen Mol, would ever really want to have anything to do with George Amberson Minafer, played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. I will admit there are scenes in the later part of the film where Rhys-Meyers manages to find something charming in the character, and we do get into Lucy's thoughts on the matter at one point, but for the most part Georgie is played with such bug-eyed intensity that I find it impossible to believe his mother does not know her spoiled little brat is on a level all his own as a world-class jerk. The film also goes a bit too far with suggesting some sort of Oedipus complex at work behind their relationship. Isabel almost died giving him birth and could not have any more children; that is a reasonable enough explanation for what is going on here.Yes, Jennifer Tilly goes over the top as Aunt Fanny, but then when your performance is going to be compared to that of Agnes Moorhead, who received Best Actress honors from the New York Film Critics Circle of playing Fanny in the original, you are pretty much doomed. James Cromwell has little of consequence to do as Major Amberson, but William Hootkins as Uncle George is a worthy successor to Ray Collins in the original. He might be the black sheep of the Ambersons, but that means he simply ends up being the most grounded member of the clan. However, it is from the performances of Greenwood and Mol that this version of "The Magnificent Ambersons" draws its strength. The ending of the film, when Greenwood looks into the camera as he speaks the words of his imaginary letter to Isabel, is certainly more effective than the rather awkward ending of the original. Anything that can end with such a note of grace deserves being watched. Furthermore, those who have never seen the Welles' version will be able to better enjoy this film since they will not be prejudiced by memories of performances past."
Could have been even more "Magnificent"
George Matusek | St Louis, MO United States | 03/01/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A&E gives us a delightfully watchable remake of Orson Welles's great film of Booth Tarkington's novel "The Magnificent Ambersons." At first I thought Madeleine Stowe & Jennifer Tilly were too young to portray Georgie's mother & aunt, but when I looked up their birthdates in Katz's film encyclopedia I was surprised that they are both in their 40s -- they've aged well -- so their age is appropriate -- they just look younger. Anyway, I soon got used to them & their portrayals. I still think Tim Holt (in the original 1942 film) did a more subtle job of portraying Georgie's casual snobbishness -- not as aggressively surly as in the remake -- but even that improves near the end. Too bad A&E determined to stick so closely to the original screenplay. They lost the opportunity to take advantage of the lengthier running time by fleshing out the plot , restoring more details from the novel. Anyone who enjoys the original film and/or this remake would enjoy reading the novel -- it's not as old-fashioned or wordy as other novels of its time -- it is a good fast read today and has more characters and subplots than either film. It holds up very well. Most of the dialogue in both films comes virtually word-for-word from the novel. I read the novel after being dazzled by Welles's 1942 film -- as soon as I finished reading, I started right in on reading it a second time. One of the themes in both the novel & the 2 films is snobbery -- so here's a bit of trivia -- it is significant that Georgie's horse is named "Pendennis" -- "Pendennis" is the name of the title character in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel satirizing snobbery. The novel was ahead of its time in dealing with the theme of air pollution from factories & automobile exhaust -- Welles intended to deal with this in his film, but the studio cut almost all of this out. A&E's remake partially restores some of this theme, but more could have been done with this by consulting the novel. Tarkington wrote 3 novels dealing with air pollution & the decline of the quality of life -- he published the 3 novels in one volume under the collective title "Growth" -- "The Magnificent Ambersons" is one of the 3 novels. Now we need a DVD of the 1942 film with all the "bells & whistles" extras. Too bad the studio destroyed Welles's cut footage -- maybe we can hope that some brave studio insider made a copy of it and that it will eventually come to light. One never knows what will turn up in Czech film archives!"