Gods and Monsters (1998)
Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave, and Lolita Davidovich.
Screenplay by Bill Condon based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram.
Directed by Bill Condon.
Review by Carlo Cavagna.
One of the best films of 1998, Gods and Monsters is based on the speculative novel Father of Frankenstein, which told the story of 1930s film director James Whale (Ian McKellen), whose best known works included Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man. By 1957, Whale has been long forgotten except by his gruff but devoted housekeeper, Hanna (Lynn Redgrave). His mind deteriorating, he is unable to prevent memories from his distant past from surfacing unpredictably. At the same time, Whale slowly develops a rapport with none-too-bright lawn man Clay Boone (Brendan Fraser), who is uncomfortable with the homosexual film director's possible motives. Initially Whale is indeed interested in Clay for his body, and Clay in Whale because of his fame, but their relationship slowly grows into something greater as each character gradually bares his soul. The interplay between the two characters is the movie's focus and greatest strength.
As Whale, Sir Ian McKellen gives what is unquestionably the strongest, most nuanced performance of the year. There is little that one can say about McKellen's talent that hasn't already been said. To deny him the Oscar for this role would be a crime of colossal proportions. As for Brendan Fraser, he gives an eye-opening performance that is almost as good as that of the remarkable lead. It's unlikely that there are many more films like Encino Man or George of the Jungle in Fraser's future.
Gods and Monsters is a movie of infinite patience. That's a rarity in the post-Tarantino era of short attention span movies, when most directors are in a rush to seize the audience by the shoulders right from the start and never let go. Instead, Condon allows each scene to develop naturally via the interaction of his talented actors. He's in no hurry to reveal where he's going, yet he never permits the film to drag. He inserts complex metaphors without overburdening the narrative. Gods and Monsters is a movie to savor, and it will linger in the mind long after it's finished.
Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and
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