Reviews Of The Movie Great Expectations

Last Updated February 4, 1998

Below you will find various reviews of the movie Great Expectations from the readers of this web site. For more about this film visit my Great Expectations Page. For reviews of the film by the press, click here. For reviews of the soundtrack and musical score to the film, go here.

February 4 - Kim H. writes:

OK, first of all... don't read this review if you haven't seen the film yet and are worried about reading details that may ruin it. I find it difficult to review something without actually talking about it, so i'm bound to 'give away' a few details...

That said, i'll get the thumbs up or down part of the review out of the way: thumb partially up. I didn't feel i had wasted my money, but at the same time, driving home i had the frustrated feeling of wanting to reach up on the screen and tweak it into being better. Now i don't know HOW i would have done that, but, ok, let me try and explain.

On the good side; it had some beautiful imagery. According to Jung, deep water is a sign of the unconscious and/or the feminine; fountains represent life; fish since they live in water represent creativity and/or the fertility of ideas. Since Finn is a fisherman, always drawing fish, etc., out of the ocean as well as onto paper, and several key scenes involve water, i believe this can't easily be overlooked in connection with the film's imagery.

For instance: when we first see Finn (even his name is part of a fish) he's standing in water; he's in tune with the world of the unconscious (he's an artist) and the feminine (the way he unreservedly gives his heart away, later). He's happily sketching... fish, as it turns out. Suddenly his life is about to change (tho he won't know it for many years); a man becomes vivid, almost seeming to appear from nowhere... from UNDER the water ! There are no air bubbles; he seems to appear as if by magic.

Suddenly the man rises ! And grabs Finn and silences him. Years later, this same man will give Finn his "voice"... his chance to express himself again, and for the world to see. But that's much later...

For now, the man gets info about Finn from Finn, then warns him he'd better return in the morning with bolt cutters and food or he'll find him...

So, that nite, Finn steals away in a boat, to do as he was told. But he shows kindness too; he brings things from the medicine cabinet for the mysterious man, somehow sensing he must be in pain. When we see the cuts from the shackles the man is wearing, we know he was right (Finn hadn't seen this earlier, as the man was in water).

Then the man (played by Robert de Niro) orders Finn into the boat and announces they're going for Mexico. They are intercepted on the way by a police boat, which tows Finn back with it, but not before the escaped convict (Mr. Lustig) slips over the side. Finn tosses a life jacket into the water before he leaves; another kindness from Finn, almost offhand, that will bear him fruit later in life, after he's forgotten all about it.

Other water imagery: Finn and Estella's first kiss, is in the midst of the water from a fountain on Ms. Dinsmoor's estate, "Paradiso Perduto" (Paradise Lost). Indeed Ms. Dinsmoor has lost her paradise, letting her estate go to ruin around her, obsessing on past losses, and her own broken heart. She's determined to raise Estella to hurt men before they can hurt her, to try and spare her the same kind of pain.

Not to dwell too much on this but when they meet again they kiss again in a water fountain, and in the rain.... their final reunion is on the edge of the water. I don't think all this is by accident. It's meant to say that the feminine and/or unconscious, that is, love and art, are healers. Feminity when corrupted, as in Ms. Dinsmoor, by that i mean a force that tries to use its gifts for ill, does not prevail. When you watch the movie, see if you agree. Water, the unconscious, art, love, the positive feminine, all are healing and there is nourishment to be drawn from them all, just as fish from the sea.

Tori's songs are used in a key manner. The opening scene, with its lovely closeups of fish in shimmering water, sets the mood for the whole film and Tori's music is key there. When Finn first approaches the gates of the lost paradise, and his life is about to change again, we hear more Tori music, to beautiful effect. When Finn has lost Estella (she's taken off to Europe suddenly for years of school) and later when he 'finds' her again, "Siren" is played, to haunting effect. I won't spoil the images here for you but will let you experience and become caught up in them yourself. The effect of Tori's music with the onscreen images and camera movements etc., sent chills down my spine, just like Tori mentioned the film alone did for her (but then she probably already heard the music in her soul). :o)

Now my quibbles, i'll be brief: some of the acting is over the top, namely Anne Bancroft in some scenes (it would have seemed *crazier* if she acted totally offhand while doing the odd things she does) (altho i found her final scene very touching), and some of it was too low key for me (Gwyneth Paltrow, except for the cab scene, was kind of like a walking paper doll). I don't blame the actors, this is a collaborative medium; but this is my take on the final effect.

Robert de Niro was very good. I felt sorry for his character, and in basically three sketchy scenes i felt he laid out the whole character. Seeing him thumb thru Finn's childhood sketchbook that he'd kept all those years, staining it with his own dying blood, was very moving.

The actor who played Uncle Joe was also very moving. There is a very good scene, Finn's gallery opening, when Uncle Joe shows up unexpectedly (perhaps uninvited). He's wearing a cheap rented tux; as with all the costumes, it has a touch of green; he looks like he's going to a leprecahn's wedding. Watching Uncle Joe's reactions to everyone and everything in that scene, and Finn's mortification, and disappointment in himself at being mortified at the presence of the man who has loved him so much, is very real and very touching. Again i'll leave the fine particulars for the individual to judge for themselves.

My main quibble, is that this story may well belong to another era. Class distinctions are all but invisible in modern day America; Dickens' tale was about the thrill and built-in agony of having "Great Expectations" that is, hoping for what may be permanently out of your reach. Here in America one can fit in almost anywhere with just an opportunity; when Dickens wrote the book worlds did not collide. An upper class girl would never marry a poor boy, no matter how he came up in the world. And in the book even tho Pip does 'better' himself, Estella never marries him. In this film, the hollowness of expectations fulfilled has (only elliptically) instead to do with the emptiness of fame and success. It lacks the wider scope of the original story, i think.

Also Dickens was the master of surprise; he took you on a roller coaster of hairpin turns. This is more like a water flume ride. Soft rolling motions into the future. Therefore when Finn's real benefactor is revealed, it lacks punch. One feels it could just as well have been anyone. But then that's why Dickens was Dickens and whoever wrote this screenplay is unknown i suppose.

BUT if you are just looking for a pleasant film, and don't have too many GREAT EXPECTATIONS, you won't be disappointed.

February 4 - Marcus H. Weidman says:

Here's what I thought of the part in "Great Expectations" where they played "Siren." . . . It was a good scene to play the song in because Gwyneth Paltrow's character (Estella-the "prissy girl") had just left for some boarding school or college or something, and Finn(Ethan Hawke) had to find ways to get his mind off of her so he fishes and restores boats and hangs out with his brother-in-law, Joe, and other friends. The song says "never was one for a prissy girl" which Finn is saying to himself in order to resolve the absence of Estella, howver he's lying to himself because he really loves her which is why Tori sings, "You know you're gonna lie to yourself and in your own way."

February 2 - Charlie Poole posted the following review to the Precious Things mailing list:

This afternoon I went to see Great Expectations.

In all I thought it was a very good movie. Beautifully photographed with some very interesting and unusual composition, sometimes visually stunning, it's artistically an accomplished movie. The unusual settings with their vivid contrasts make this a film I want to view again, if only, to see what I missed the first time around. For those not knowing the plot, it's just another story of thwarted love with some very intersting twists. It's tender without being cheap (the kiss at the fountain is precious) and sentimental without being maudlin.

The art works (by Francesco Clemente) are expressive and haunting; the perfect foil for the story of a kid who loves to draw. The pomposity and puffery of the New York art scene is exploited to perfection. Those of you with knowledge of recent art history will chuckle at some of the "in" lines. Artists will identify with many of the characters and images. It contains something for everyone; romantic and cynic alike. Even the credits complement the film and continue the artistic imagery of the storyline, adding to the feeling that the story continues.

Ethan Hawke plays a great Finn; naive innocent to city street smart to lover, he plays all the parts with skill and occasional panache. "She did know me ... and I knew her ... I always had, from the first instant ... it was as if it had never been ... there was just my memory of it."

Estella, radiant, seductive, cold, vicious and lovely as only Gwyneth Paltrow could play her. "Let's say there was a little girl, and from the time she was 10, she was taught to fear daylight, she was taught that it was her enemy, that it would hurt her -- and then one sunny day, you ask her to go outside, and she won't -- you can't be angry at her, can you?"

Anne Bancroft is the wonderfully crazy 72 year old Ms. Dinsmoor, jilted by her fiance 30 years ago and still nursing her pain (like a piglet at breast). Lustig (Robert DeNiro) is pure evil, and pure love as well. Uncle Joe's (Chris Cooper), a sad, lonely, lovely man and Walter (Hank Azaria) is just sad.

On this list I don't think I need comment on the soundtrack except to say that the songs are masterfully interwoven with the scenes. And, of course, Tori's voice is a perfect counterpoint to the mood of the film.

If you aren't planning on seeing the movie, please reconsider. You just might be missing a very enjoyable experience. See it with someone you love or someone you want to love.

"How do you smoke a swordfish? Put the bill in your mouth and light the tail."

February 2 - Tripp Gwyn writes:

(WARNING - There are SPOILERS here, so don't read if you don't want to know)

My expectations for the film weren't very high. I knew Tori's music was there, not to mention a spectacular score from Patrick Doyle. I loved the original book, but the older (movie) versions were terrible (IMHO). It was so hard to stay awake and watch it during English Class.

This movie touched something in me. There were so many themese intertwined into one huge story. The experience Finn had with a "bigger world" was something I could connect with greatly. His repression of the fear and anxiety was evident, and when he meets with the "criminal" again when he is older it all comes to the surface. His entire childhood experience made me long to be a kid again.

A few of the other themes included things like "we are what we are", "it's better to be nice to everyone, you never know who you're communicating with", "don't turn your back on the people that truly care for you"....etc.

The visuals in this movie were beyond wonderful. I never dreamed one movie could have SO many beautiful sets. Paradiso Perduto was the most amazing set I have ever experienced in a movie.

I loved the music and how it was sequenced. When Siren came on and he started painting so vicously I could feel the energy of the song. I didn't particularly like it in the fishing scene. The score fit perfectly. THe track "Finn" is such a wonderful peace, it just returns my mind to being a kid playing in the backyard.

Before seeing the movie I just knew the ending was going to be terrible. I thought it would be very sad. But I was shocked. IMHO the little girl HAD to be Finn's child. Anyone who wants can flame me, but I know it was his daughter. When they began to hold hands, I did shed one tear of happiness.

I thought it was an excellent movie and give it an A+.

January 31 - Mikewhy writes:

After seeing Great Expectations last night, my opinion of the movie is positive, but with reservations. If you read the press reviews that I link to from this site, you will find some critics who found the movie empty and weak, while others found it powerful and affecting. I found it to be both. (Read some of those other reviews if you want a summary of the story.)

Visually, the film is stunning. Many of the scenes seem so magical that you think you are watching a dream. Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron has created a lush and enchanting backdrop for the events that take place in the film (with lots of green!) The pacing of the movie was excellent, and the choice of camera angles superb.

The music was blended into the scenes perfectly. Tori's music in particular was used to great effect. My admiration for the song "Finn" is stronger now that I see where it was used in the movie. That song is heard while we watch Finn as a young boy drawing. Then we hear Tori's voice again when Finn (still a young boy) first reaches the mansion where he will meet his love Estella. That song is "Paradiso Perduto" from the Score. Finally, "Siren" is played when Finn is older, fishing at sea, and trying to forget Estella. The lyrics to "Siren" really make sense after you see the movie. It was good to see music being used in a film in such an effective way.

I was really involved in the film. It kept me interested the entire time, and I really wanted to know how it ended. There were moments of great brillance in the picture. I loved the performance of Anne Bancroft. The last scene with her and Finn is most memorable. She is over the top and crazy, but she is also a deeply sad character. I was also surprised to find myself feeling very sorry for the character of Estella played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Since she plays a snobby woman taught to destroy men, I assumed I would dislike her. Instead, I was moved by the melancholy personality underneath all that seducing.

However, the movie also has some real flaws. Some of the dialog is shallow or unconvincing. There was one scene where the camera looks up Estella's dress to her underwear that I thought was really unnecessary. (The other love scenes and the nude sketching scene were handled very tastefully however.) I did see a chemistry between Finn and Estella, but only during some of the scenes. If you compare the screenplay of this picture with the actual book from Charle Dickens, you will most certainly be disappointed. The original story is filled with rich characterization and many intertwining themes about class and society. The movie is mainly a love story that does not include much of what made the book powerful.

So I think I can say that your enjoyment of the film will literally depend on your expectations. It is clear from the other reviews I have read that those who truly love the original book find the movie very lacking. Others who either never read Dicken's story or who judged the film soley on its own merit seemed to like it much more. I went to the movie with an open mind, and while I found some flaws in the script and dialogue, I basically enjoyed the film. I would give this film a B-.

January 31 - Danica writes:

Great Expectations. It met all my expectations tonite when I went to see it on opening night. I had been wanting to see this movie since I knew it was coming out (regardless that Tori had anything to do with the soundtrack/score....that was a big bonus). So tonite I conned my mom into seeing it with me. I'm not sure where to start with it, except to tell you to go see this movie. It was so incredible. The music played into the movie so well, and just made it all the more enjoyable. Having the soundtrack/score, I think helped when watching the movie, as I knew the background of the story already, but the music did shed some light in to it. I had seen the special on Hollywood and Vinyl on VH1 about how the colour green was used quite a bit in the movie, because its the only colour that the (I believe it was Director) could "understand". Green is all over this movie. In every scene, about every screen shot there is green, and its in abundance. The colour adds so much melodrama to the movie, because for me green is like a mellow colour, sad...yet it can be happy, and I think that it worked so well in it.

(I'll only cover the Tori song parts of the movie, since this *IS* a Tori Amos website.) As I said, the music along with the movie was captivating. Finn (the vocalization by Tori) was played first during a scene when Finn was a young boy, drawing while standing in the water. Later Paradiso Perduto (another Tori vocalization) was played when Finn first encountered the grounds of the home. It is also the name of the land/house that Estella's Aunt lived in. I think that Tori's haunting voice during this scene was just breath taking. It symbolizes Finn thinking of Estella, the lands where he grew up with Estella every Saturday afternoon. The grounds play a very important part in the relationship between the two as they are growing up. Of course this is also the place where Estella was "programmed" to "break hearts". Siren, I think was placed at a perfect part in the movie. When it was shone on VH1's Hollywood and Vinyl, it was shown with the correct scene, but since we hadn't seen the movie yet, it looked in an awkward place. However, when seeing the complete movie the song, Siren is perfectly suited for the scene/going ons. It started to play just as Finn had set out to not mope around about Estella going off to Paris to school, he got out and lived his life how he wanted to at the time. During which the lyrics play...... "and you know you're gunna lie to you, in your own way" This meaning that Finn, even though he was doing his own thing, trying to go on with his life, Estella was always in his heart and mind, so he was lying to himself. "know the chill, know she breaks my Siren". She, being Estella, broke his heart...the one voice in the little world he lived in, its as if his love/heart was his Siren, screaming out his passions for her. "almost in love Vanilla" is played right before he stops, which apparently was playing on a stereo that Finn was listening to. the "almost in love" part made me think back to when Estella was in Finn's bedroom and he had his hand on her, she was kissing him passionately like she was in love with him...... "almost in love...."

Ok, I don't wanna totally ruin the movie for you, so that's all I will say about that. Just know to take tissues with you when you see this. You *may* need them, I did.

January 30 - Terry East sent this excellent review of the film, complete with details on how Tori's music is used in the film:

Well, I just returned from a late screening of Great Expectations. Of the three (including myself) of us who sat in on the movie, I was the only one who had not read the book. My first warning is that if you are expecting Dickens you will very disappointed (believe the hype). However, if you want a modern Hollywood spin on the story, you just might like it.

If you are looking for Tori's music in the film, it does indeed appear only twice. First, it appears at the very beginning ("Finn"). Then, "Siren" plays during one sequence in the middle of the movie. While I was surprised with the particular placement of the song, I think that it works right where it is.

I find myself comparing this film to the recent remake of Romeo and Juliet. Both are modern retellings of classic tales. Both have well promoted rock soundtracks. Both are aimed the younger "gen-X" (insert latest younger generation title here) crowd. I could go on but I will not.

Overall, I found the film to be very good although like William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juilet it may lack depth. The leads were very good but Gwyneth Paltrow has one line in particular that I wish was simply struck from the script. I wish to not mention now simply because it might take away from one enjoyment of the scene. It may have been appropriate for the character but I still did not like it.

Robert De Niro as usual was fantastic. However, I do feel bad for Anne Bancroft. I don't think the film was released in L.A. before the new year so it would not qualify for Oscars. So, if this turns out to be her last chance at Oscar it would be a shame. Her performance in the film while over the top should have had the opportunity to be considered in the Supporting Actress category.

What struck me most about the film and what I would like to think struck Tori about the film was the overall cinematic style of the film. It was fast paced but the uncertain gloom for Finn's character seem to give the film's pace the proper counterpunch. The pacing also created the foundation for Finn's rags to riches tale. Finally, I would say that the film was visually stunning. Both Florida and New York look fantastic.

The film used the music from the soundtrack and the score very well. In addition to Tori's contributions, Chris Cornell's "Sunshower" and Scott Weiland's "Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down" were two favorites that were used in scenes of the film. My only disappointment here is that Scott Weiland's song could have been more involved in the scene.

In the end, I think this film serves its ends. I was entertained a great deal (despite what some of the nitpicking above would indicate). I think also it might get some people to go back and read the original book. If your interest in the film has been prompted by the soundtrack and score in which Tori got involved, I think that you will enjoy their use in the final product. Enjoy!

Mid January - A Toriphile who wishes to remain anonymous caught a sneak preview of the film and sent this report:

I saw a sneak preview of Great Expectations tonight and I loved it! It is a really good movie. I think its 3 hours long but it goes really fast! I have some info about the music in the movie. "Finn" is played during the opening credits, but it is a Tori-less version. Then at the beginning it is played with her but there is Ethan Hawke's voice narrating over it and if you don't know its Tori, you won't notice it. And I was listening really intently. Siren is played very soon in the movie and it was a little dissapointing that they didn't save it for a big climax. They play the entire first half of the song very loudly which I was singing along to (very loudly). Its not necessarily at a very important part either but its loud! The song by Mono which is also incredible is saved for the ever-important closing credits, which I think could have had a better impact at other parts. The movie is beautiful! Also some of the things may be changed(but not likely) since it was a sneak preview but the music quality was poor and it seemed like it was in an unpolished quality.

It is overall a very good film!

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