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Gandhi (1982)

tomatometer

87

Average Rating: 8/10
Reviews Counted: 47
Fresh: 41 | Rotten: 6

Director Richard Attenborough is typically sympathetic and sure-handed, but it's Ben Kingsley's magnetic performance that acts as the linchpin for this sprawling, lengthy biopic.

83

Average Rating: 7/10
Critic Reviews: 6
Fresh: 5 | Rotten: 1

Director Richard Attenborough is typically sympathetic and sure-handed, but it's Ben Kingsley's magnetic performance that acts as the linchpin for this sprawling, lengthy biopic.

audience

93

liked it
Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 48,339

My Rating

Movie Info

It was Richard Attenborough's lifelong dream to bring the life story of Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi to the screen. When it finally reached fruition in 1982, the 188-minute, Oscar-winning Gandhi was one of the most exhaustively thorough biopics ever made. The film begins in the early part of the 20th century, when Mohandas K. Gandhi (Ben Kingsley), a British-trained lawyer, forsakes all worldly possessions to take up the cause of Indian independence. Faced with armed

PG,

Drama, Classics

John Briley

Aug 28, 2001

Columbia Pictures

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All Critics (47) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (41) | Rotten (6) | DVD (30)

In playing Gandhi, an actor must be less concerned with physical verisimilitude than with spiritual presence, and here Kingsley is nothing short of astonishing.

February 24, 2010 Full Review Source: TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Once in a long while a motion picture so eloquently expressive and technically exquisite comes along that one is tempted to hail it as being near perfect.

January 29, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Attenborough's work lacks even the undercurrent of personality that David Lean brought to his films: the film has no flavor but that of the standard Hollywood hagiography.

December 17, 2006 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader | Comments (10)
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Its faults rather pale beside the epic nature of its theme, and Kingsley's performance in the central role is outstanding.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A remarkable experience.

October 23, 2004 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

[Of] importance is the possibility that the film will bring Gandhi to the attention of a lot of people around the world for the first time, not as a saint but as a self-searching, sometimes fallible human being with a sense of humor as well as of history.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Tthe film Gandhi is more stuffy than stately, more prestigious than prodigious. It never quite captures the essence of Gandhi, or the influence he exerted on other leaders, including Martin Luther King. It's a broad but shallow river of information.

January 13, 2014 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor

Above all, Kingsley's astonishing performance, capturing both Gandhi's divine light and his irresistible simplicity, inspires this ambitious film.

January 13, 2014 Full Review Source: People Magazine
People Magazine

Attenborough shows once again his skill in managing the big set-piece.

February 20, 2013 Full Review Source: Observer [UK]
Observer [UK]

While Kingsley (who took one of eight Oscars) is the glue that holds this epic piece together, you must relish a cast that includes John Gielgud, Edward Fox, John Mills, Martin Sheen and Roshan Seth.

February 20, 2013 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

It's a slow, reverential biopic, but it compensates for its sedate pace with a dry, gentle humour and a humanity that befits its extraordinary subject.

February 11, 2013 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

Richard Attenborough's Gandhi is every bit as sumptuous as everyone had expected.

February 11, 2013 Full Review Source: The Nation
The Nation

Brilliant biography will engage preteens and up.

January 2, 2011 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

Attenborough's crowning achievement as a director.

March 25, 2008 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Ben Kingsley's title performance is amazing, particularly in the way he ages across the five decades which the film depicts.

January 29, 2008

It's safe to say that if you knew nothing about Gandhi before going in to the movie, you wouldn't know a whole lot more coming out.

January 29, 2008 Full Review Source: Film4 | Comments (4)
Film4

Gandhi is less personal than Reds, but also less complacent than Chariots of Fire and less doddering than Lean's own orderly post-colonial apologia, A Passage to India.

March 5, 2007 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine | Comments (3)
Slant Magazine

Every bit the biopic that Patton was, Gandhi is emotionally engaging but taxing on the viewer's stamina. Ben Kingsley is astounding.

December 22, 2006 Full Review Source: Cinema Sight
Cinema Sight

Despite an intelligent title performance by Ben Kingsley and impressive cinematography in the manner of David Lean, this huge, clunky biopic offers less than meets the eye.

December 17, 2006 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Despite an intelliegnt performance by Ben Kingsley in the lead, Attenborousgh's worthy biopic is too conventional in illuminating the venerable leader.

July 28, 2006 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com | Comments (9)
EmanuelLevy.Com

A true epic in every sense of the word!

January 1, 2005
Nolan's Pop Culture Review

Audience Reviews for Gandhi

A sincere biopic about a most admirable man, and enriched by Ben Kingsley's impressive performance - even if the story is in fact more didactic than really compelling and with Gandhi not as fascinating as a character as the strength of his convictions and accomplishments.
September 18, 2013
blacksheepboy

Super Reviewer

Ben Kingsley is definitely one of the best actors around..it absolutely shows in this wonderful film.
June 9, 2013
itsjustme2004

Super Reviewer

It's been ages since I've seen this, so my review is being dictated primarily by memory. Perhaps it's time for a rewatch?

Richard Attenborough takes the helm for this sweeping historical epic about the life of Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi. It's a very reverent film, is extremely long, and covers a lot of ground, but is a very powerful and compelling tale that highlights the life and work of one of the most influential and important figures in history.

This will probably always be Sir Ben Kingsley's defining role, but that's totally fine. He disappears into the character completely, was nothing but deserving of all the awards and acclaim he got, and really brings the character to life in the best way. It's seriously one of the most convincing performances ever. Like I said, I haven't seen this in ages, so I really don't remember much, but given who makes up the rest of the cast, such as Gielgud, I'm going to go out on a limb and just assert that their performances were also probably great too.

There's also great music, wonderful production values, superb cinematography, and of course, a great message. There's many reasons to see this, and for whichever ones you pick, hopefully you'll not be disappointed.
December 18, 2012
cosmo313
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

In my review of Chariots of Fire, I remarked that "the legacy it has left behind for British filmmaking has not been one of unmitigated benefit." By this I was not referring specifically to the career of Hugh Hudson (what there is of it), but to the films which sought all too earnestly to recapture its Oscar success. While Chariots of Fire still stands as a landmark of British filmmaking, untarnished and proud, the sands of time have gradually revealed Gandhi for what it really is: an utterly well-meaning but overly cautious biopic, which relies too much on reputation and not enough on empathy.

It would be easy to dismiss Gandhi outright on the grounds I have just laid out. Like Chariots of Fire, the film had a very good night at the Oscars, scooping eight awards from eleven nominations including the coveted Best Picture. But it doesn't take too long to realise that the film was made for all the right reasons and with the very best intentions. Richard Attenborough had been trying to make the film for almost 20 years, and had a deep affection for both Gandhi and his story.

You also can't fault the ambition of the film in terms of wanting to cover the Mahatma's life in as full a sweep as possible. The film opens with a card saying: "No man's life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and to try to find one's way to the heart of the man." Despite this welcome modesty, Attenborough is not using the need for brevity as a means to cut corners.

The film famously holds a Guinness World Record for the number of extras involved, with more than 300,000 actors being involved at some level. Shot on 200 different locations over a period of six months, showing the passage of sixty-odd, it's the kind of epic filmmaking that we just don't get any more, for better or worse. Perhaps only Gone with the Wind was more ambitious in terms of time being covered and personnel involved - and unlike Gone with the Wind, Gandhi finished on-time and on-budget.

There can also be very little doubt that Gandhi is very handsomely mounted. Both Billy Williams and Ronnie Taylor were used to projects with great visual extravagance, having collaborated with Ken Russell on Women in Love and Tommy respectively. The wide shots are beautifully lit, taking in the variety of the Indian landscape, and Attenborough's choice of colour is much more engrossing than some of Sydney Pollack's choices in Out of Africa. You get a sense throughout of someone wanting to get every detail just so before the cameras roll.

One of the reasons that Gandhi had such a long gestation period is that Attenborough struggled to find an actor capable of playing the Mahatma. Paramount Pictures, in one of the aborted attempts to make the film, refused to give him the money unless Richard Burton was cast. Ben Kingsley was chosen in part for his Indian heritage, his birth name being Krishna Pandit Bhanji and his father being Gujerati. Regardless of the film's reputation it is hard to imagine anyone else playing Gandhi; not only does he achieve a physical resemblance, but he truly serves the character, carrying himself without a hint of ego or pretence.

On the basis of what we have covered so far, Gandhi seems to be shaping up as a well-made, well-performed and well-intended film. Unfortunately, when we start to dig a little beneath the surface, and question the execution of these intentions, the film begins to come a little unstuck. It never falls completely into the territory of Out of Africa, which rapidly descended into baggy nonsense with no sense of direction. But for all your good will about either Attenborough or the real-life Mahatma, the film will leave you feeling just a little unsatisfied.

The key to Gandhi's problems lies in a comment made by Attenborough when he was recently interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live. He remarked that E.T. was a better film than Gandhi, since the latter was "a piece of narration, rather than a piece of cinema". While Steven Spielberg's film is a genuine example of visual storytelling, which works in whatever language you see it in, Attenborough's film relies on some kind of foreknowledge of the real-life figure to achieve any kind of emotional impact. When we respond to Gandhi, we are responding to the man himself, not to the way in which his story is being told to us.

A good example comes in the early stages of the film. A young Gandhi is leading a meeting of protest against the policies of General Jan Smuts, which restricted the movements of Indians in South Africa and gave the police powers to search Indian property without warrant. Kingsley gives a nervous but resourceful speech which, if the film is to believed, marks the beginnings of Satyagraha or non-violent resistance. We find ourselves drawn in by the ideas, but it feels like we are listening to an idea rather than to a person conveying it.

Like many films that are based on a true story or which tackle key events in history, Gandhi very quickly becomes didactic. As good as Kingsley is at delivering dialogue, much of his lines feel like pre-meditated motivational speeches rather than something more spontaneous and human. Even if the real-life Gandhi never said a foolish word, and was the very model of decorum in the midst of great violence, his goodness is presented so unrelentingly that there is no way for us lesser mortals to bond with him emotionally.

The film is also blatantly hagiographic in its depiction of Gandhi as little short of a saint. Not only does he come to be adored by the British public, he comes out as the unconditional good guy among the politicians who would come to rule India and Pakistan. Jawaharlal Nehru is always characterised as being slightly insincere, and Muhammad Jinnah comes out almost like a Bond villain. In complete contrast to Christopher Lee's performance in the 1998 film, Jinnah is portrayed as essentially selfish and aloof, and when Gandhi remarks that he has "co-operated with the British", it is the closest he comes in the film to spitting out poison.

The problem is not that Mahatma Gandhi was not a great man. He was, and he may well have been the most well-meaning out of this small group. The problem is that the film treats him and depicts him as someone who should be deified and worshiped, when what we want is to understand how he became this way, and the flaws to him. The film skips over Gandhi's attitudes towards class and caste, his early remarks on race and his views on the role of women, just as it declines to comment on the elitism of Nehru and Jinnah, or how their attitudes were shaped by their English educations. All the really interesting ideas and entry points for discussion at either ignored or held at arms' length, lest they tarnish or puncture the myth that Attenborough wishes to uphold.

There are only two scenes in Gandhi in which Attenborough invokes any genuine emotional response beyond admiration. The first comes on the farm, where Gandhi threatens to throw out his wife for refusing to rake the latrine. They have an argument about obedience and love, and eventually reconcile, in a scene which gives an indication of humanity and makes Kingsley's performance feel less mannered. The other is the recreation of the Amritsar Massacre, which is appropriately brutal and difficult to watch. Attenborough devotes several minutes to the catastrophic event, and while he is never gratuitous, we get the message.

The other really troubling aspect of Gandhi is its tendency to express the nobility of the Mahatma by surrounding him with well-meaning white people. Again, the problem is not the fact that the real-life Gandhi met and knew these people - it is that these people are used as ciphers to hammer home something that speaks for itself. Ian Charleston's clergyman, Martin Sheen's journalist, Candice Bergen's photographer and Geraldine James' aristocrat all bring us back to the central problem: we need to see through Gandhi's eyes and feel what he feels, rather than be told how great he was by annoying people that we couldn't care less about.

Gandhi is perhaps the best example of an admirable failure. It's not a bad film by any conceivable stretch, and no-one can deny either Kingsley's talent or the good intentions of Attenborough behind the camera. But ultimately it relies on these intentions far too much, forgetting the basics of creating character empathy in favour of a dry, skewed history lesson coupled with its fair share of guilt-tripping. In short it takes a very long time to say far too little, and something about ideas this important shouldn't leave us so cold and ambivalent.
May 28, 2012
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

    1. Mahatma Gandhi: The only devils in the world are those running around in our own hearts, and that is where all our battles ought to fought.
    – Submitted by George P (4 months ago)
    1. Mahatma Gandhi: There is no people on earth who would not prefer their own bad government to the good government of an alien power.
    – Submitted by George P (4 months ago)
    1. Mahatma Gandhi: An eye for an eye just ends up making the whole world blind.
    – Submitted by George P (4 months ago)
    1. Mahatma Gandhi: I want to change their minds, not kill them for weaknesses we all possess.
    – Submitted by Nik M (20 months ago)
    1. Mahatma Gandhi: Where there is injustice, I always believed in fighting. The question is: do you fight to change things or do you fight to punish? I've found we're all such sinners we should leave punishment to God.
    – Submitted by Nik M (20 months ago)
    1. Mahatma Gandhi: In this cause, I, too, am prepared to die. But, my friends, there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill.
    – Submitted by Nik M (20 months ago)
View all quotes (10)

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