Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Watching: Empire of the Sun

This may or may not be the best Steven Spielberg movie about civilians interned by an Axis power during World War II, but it's pretty darn good.

First off, a young Christian Bale gives probably the best, most varied and intense performance by a child actor I've ever seen, better than that weird expressionless kid from The Sixth Sense, better even than anything Alfalfa ever did on The Little Rascals.

The story was OK, nothing great. It's based on the truish, realish memoirs of famous sci-fi guy J.G. Ballard. Spielberg mostly restrained himself, except for one or two short scenes where the kid was skipping around the prison camp trading marbles and shining shoes like some demented member of the Goonies, as if it was all some Excellent Adventure. Mostly, he hung back and let the pictures tell the story in an almost expressionist style. Yeah, the music went over the top a bit, but thank god Flying Spaghetti Monster there was no voiceover narration.

All in all, if you ever want to watch a movie about Occidentals encountering the mystery and mystique of the Old Orient during wartime, you could put this in a bag with The Last Emperor, The Killing Fields (which, like this movie, features a pretty good performance by John Malkovich) and even the legendary Bridge On The River Kwai, and you'd be OK with whichever one you pulled out. It was a hell of a lot better than Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, anyway.

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