Of Mice and Men (1992) Review – Back to School

Of Mice and Men was always tied first place (alongside Lord of the Flies) for being my favourite book studied during high school literature. But was the film any good? Well…

What can be said of it is that it’s not a bad movie. It’s certainly not poorly made. But I don’t think this story has benefitted from being a movie rather than just a book, like the adaptation really didn’t try anything with the new medium to make any real mark. So it sits in this weird place where I think I’d have liked it more if I hadn’t read the book, because then I wouldn’t know how little this movie does with the opportunity it has to adapt it.

It’s not that I dislike this film being so faithful to the book, just that I also think adaptations – by nature being someone else’s creative take on an existing work – normally work best if that person puts something new, or of themselves into it. What little new there is lies in the opening, where we see our protagonists, George and Lenny, fleeing the scene of a ranch where Lenny had scared a girl who thought she was in danger. In the book this was all alluded to and discussed after the fact, but in the movie we get to see it. I don’t think it adds anything to the film, as the first time it grabbed my attention was when all the dialogue started; the same place, coincidentally, as where the book starts. It’s sort of a catch 22 for me because while I do like my adaptations to at least one singular distinct think about them, I can hardly fault anyone who loved a book so much that they poured their heart into making such an honest recreation of it. In fact I read a bit of the book afterwards and couldn’t help but picture the actors and sets of the film – which isn’t something I normally experience when rereading a book, having seen the film; If I read the Hobbit, for example, I don’t see the actors from those films in my mind.

Anyway, in the great depression, small but smart George and the friendly but mentally challenged giant, Lenny, seek work to secure a better future for themselves. But Lenny is always inadvertently getting into trouble and messing things up for them. When hopes of a better future finally appear from the sad and oppressive ranch life, Lenny screws it up again by accidentally killing the wife of the ranch owner’s son. When a vicious man hunt for Lenny begins, George must give him a more merciful death than they would presumably allow.

Overall, this film is just fine. I think the one and only thing this story gains from being a film is from physically seeing the characters do all the back breaking ranch work. Obviously in a book you can only read about the same work so often before it gets boring, but in a movie you can set dialogue scenes out in the fields, while they’re going out and coming back from work and when the work just needs doing. Physically seeing Lenny’s strength compared to the other ranchers also helps you buy into how easily he mistakenly kills the lady at the end.

The cast is good too. Everyone who knows about this film will know John Malkovitch to be the draw as Lenny. He does a good job at showing the dual sides of Lenny; even in non-violent scenes you see him be annoying in ways that make you understand why some of George’s dialogue early in the film is so out-of-the-blue mean. But on the flip side he’s so innocent and kind that you get why George wouldn’t just leave him. George is played by Gary Sinise whose performance is overlooked here. It’s one of those situations where because one actor – Malkovitch – is doing the BIG thing that the other star goes unsung.

Sinise also directed, which I hadn’t previously known. And yeah the directing is all pretty good. Nothing bad, but nothing stand-out good either. Just as good as it needs to be to get this story told. I suppose in a dialogue heavy movie set primarily on four or five sets of a farm it’s hard to be creative with what the camera is doing. Then again, Saw (the first one, anyway) managed some good things.

So yeah, that’s Of Mice and Men. Remarkably okay. I have nothing bad to say about it, but am really grasping at straws for outstanding praise too (I guess that’s a criticism?) Would I recommend it? I mean if it’s on your watchlist and you’re ever indecisive on what to watch next, it’s at least a safe bet.

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