The English Patient

The English Patient ★★★


[Originally written on my blog.]

Movie remains frustratingly lopsided in a way the book apparently is not—judging from the synopsis, Kip has been neutered to the point of near-irrelevance, functioning solely as a hirsute love interest for Binoche's unfailingly spunky nurse. Which is particularly unfortunate given that the North African flashbacks serve up the most unapologetically swoony and old-fashioned eye-fuck romance of the modern era. Some folks I know find Almásy's treason so unconscionable that it retroactively poisons that whole relationship, but there's a reason why his present-tense incarnation is extra-crispy—his actions are understood but by no means celebrated or condoned. Or maybe I'm just inclined to be forgiving because sexual chemistry as credibly palpable as that between Fiennes and Scott Thomas is so rare. Minghella's acute understanding of human nature is most evident here in Almásy's futile efforts to resist temptation, and Fiennes savvily plays the Count's hostility toward Katherine as genuine, as if he resents the power she has over him and hates her for embodying his inevitable betrayal. All that stuff is smokin' (except for the too-pointed Herodotus anecdote, which has no purpose save clumsy foreshadowing), which means it's a bit of a drag every time the movie returns to the Italian villa and its comparative non-entities. Strange that Minghella wound up receiving his greatest acclaim for this very uncharacteristic picture; while he handles the scale reasonably well, it's mostly small, intimate moments that connect. If you've read the book: Does Almásy tell Katherine "I just want you to know that I'm not missing you yet," and does she tenderly reply "You will" and then immediately bonk her head into a pole? 'Cause that's handled as dryly and fleetingly as one could possibly hope for.