The English Patient (1996)

Review

The English Patient

Just so you know, ‘patient’ refers to a man with a medical condition, not the ability to sit through a film that flirts with a three hour running time.

You think I’m kidding, but I’m serious -The English Patient has got to be the longest romance movie I’ve ever seen [This was before Titanic. -Ed.]. Well, Out of Africa was awfully long, too, but that doesn’t make it okay! (Like your mother might say, ‘If Meryl Streep jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?’)

Okay, I’m being melodramatic, but my three hours in the front row (not by choice) didn’t do my neck a bit of good, and if this review seems a bit grumpy, I refuse to be held responsible.

he English Patient is a grand tale of love and loss set during the backdrop of the African theatre of WWII. Told using a structure that busts Hollywood’s Three Acts wide open, we follow a man we eventually come to know as The Count (Ralph Fiennes), whose plane has been shot down near the start of the war. Horribly disfigured in the resulting fire and an apparent amnesiac, the Count finds himself in the hands of Hana (Juliette Binoche), a Canadian nurse. While the war plays out, with Hana and the Count holed up in an abandoned monastery, so does the truth about the Count’s past — an intrigue-filled tale of adventure, love, and tragedy.

Fiennes is spectacular is the mystery man, and Kristin Scott Thomas (who plays the Count’s flashback love interest) shows that, when she dyes her hair blonde, she can seriously burn up the screen. Also look for Willem Dafoe in one of his most earnest and accessible roles to date. Serious praises are deserved by the film’s art director and editor, and I’ll be absolutely shocked if The English Patient doesn’t take home a Best Makeup Design Oscar. (It didn’t even get nominated! Though it won 9 Oscars in the end. -Ed.)

The only problem with the film, besides severe butt-ache, is a number of holes in writer/director Anthony Minghella’s (Truly Madly Deeply) screenplay. You’d think that with that extra hour, he could fill these holes up, but I guess not.

No matter. The English Patient is still a solid story and an exquisitely-produced film. There’s always enough going on to hold the viewer’s eye, or even get you to shed a tear or two. Just be forewarned that the best films always have sad endings.

The long-awaited DVD adds another disc to make for copious extras. Minghella provides extensively-introduced deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and a historical vignette on the real Count Almasy. Two feature-length commentary tracks may be overkill, and the remaining extras could take up your entire weekend. Highly, highly recommended.

Looks like somebody forgot their hat!!