Monday, July 20, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd Review




I love films so much that they even dictate what I read. Often times if a new movie is due out that is adapted from a novel, I have read that source material at some point during the previous 6-12 months. I don't really know why, but something inside me gets curious about any officially announced cinema that I have elevated expectations for and wants to know more instantly. I find a certain fascination in obtaining a mental image of the characters and their movements, the setting and the set pieces and seeing how closely it matches up with what a filmmaker puts on screen.

Far From the Madding Crowd is not the type of novel that would typically find its way onto my list of what to find at the library, but the name Thomas Vinterberg was attached to direct so it instantly became a must see. If you're unfamiliar with the name, don't worry, as of roughly two years ago I, too, would have said "Who the hell is Thomas Vinterberg?" had it come up. Then I saw his brilliant film from Denmark The Hunt and that all changed, a perfectly assembled and disturbing drama that will leave you shaken in the end. 

I walked to the towering shelves of books searching for the name Hardy, Thomas, the author of Far From the Madding Crowd, a novel published in the year 1874. Look up to the top and there it is, dusty and weird and beaten up like it had literally been present at every historical event since the moment Hardy finished penning it onto a scroll of papyrus with one of those dope feather quill pens. It smelled of death and alcohol and a sweltering summer journey in a horse and buggy, and I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into and figure out what exactly Vinterberg would be dazzling me with in the near future.




Then I read the book. Listen, I don't mean to shit on a classic because it was well written and I'm sure for those many years ago whose only options of entertainment were drinking, sitting at a table staring at a candle or sleeping with your neighbor's wife it was probably a hoot, but damn was this novel boring. Hundreds upon hundreds of pages of nothing but a lady named Bathsheba being pursued by a bunch of hot dudes from the days of yore. It was sleepier than listening to a John Mayer song, but I stuck with it waiting for something awesome to happen. Nothing awesome really ever happened.

So now I was left wondering, why exactly was this something Vinterberg would feel was a worthy follow up to something as chilling and powerful as The Hunt? Despite the failure of the book to capture my attention, perhaps it would shine cinematically, a gorgeous translation from page to screen. My excitement to see it still lingered.

Now that I have done just that, seen Far From the Madding Crowd, the good news is that it does play far better and more interestingly as a film than it did a book for me, but the material was still far too languid and uneventful to knock my socks off. The screenplay is tight and smart but doesn't really do anything to elevate the 140 year old words of Thomas Hardy, but really how much elevation could there have been? If someone is going to adapt such a classic it is because they respect and possibly even cherish the original text, so I knew it was doubtful they would take too many liberties with it and include some sweet machine gun filled action sequences and some line bumpin' lifted straight from the story of Jordan Belfort. Vinterberg does direct the film with class and enough style to keep me invested, and the cinematography is at times lush and gorgeous which, combined with the addition of a perfectly suited musical score, was plenty for me to recognize that the film had far exceeded how I felt as I read.



The problem is, Far From the Madding Crowd had a low ceiling because I knew the material was never going to thrill me or leave me wanting more. I know it is just a matter of taste as I can safely assume many would ingest the sweeping romantic narrative from Thomas Hardy and it would feel like a warm and wonderful blanket to them, and then seeing it performed on the big screen with such grace and beauty by the amazingly talented cast of Carey Mulligan (whom I just love, by the way), Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge and Michael Sheen would leave those people feeling intoxicated and wanting more. 

For me, its a story with very little to say but at least it was told here very, very well. I would even watch it again if given the chance, which I certainly cannot say about reading the novel.


3.5/5


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