Little Big Man Reviews
Based on a satirical novel, this is a bleakly dark dramedy/western about a 110 year-old man named Jack Crabb who tells his life story to a misguided 20th Century historian.
Crabb is a white man who was raised by Native Americans from a young age. He grows accustomed to their humane, enlightened way of life, but eventually strikes out on his own to see the world. He gets involved in many notable historical events (a concept later revisited in Forrest Gump), mostly involving Custer, the white conquest of the west, and the dark side of American imperialism. It's not always a pretty sight, but it definitely rings true.
This is a great movie, and definitely one of those times where I'm surprised (but happy), that it was a mainstream affair. It definitely fits into the scholarly movement going on at the time where revisionism was going strong, shedding light into events from previously ignored perspectives, and presenting a more balanced view of history.
The cinematography is excellent, the direction is strong, the ambitions and goals noble, and the performances excellent. Hoffman delivers a wonderful turn here, and it's easily one of his best, even though it is sadly overlooked a lot of the time. The dark, quirky humor balances out with the material nicely, and this is a really eye opening film.
Please give this one a look. It's not only a gem of the 70s, but a really important masterpiece of cinema in general.
Having just completed the source novel by Thomas Berger, I thought I'd see the film again after all these years. I'm glad I did, though it was not a pure pleasure.
The ambition of the film stands out - they really did try to capture the wonderful, unusual voice of the book - like True Grit, a standout book in the tradition of Twain. Hoffman is the only actor who could carry the part off, and he does it great justice, even if he is a bit mannered at times. Chief Dan George is unforgettable as his 'Grandfather.' Fay Dunaway is a fabulous Mrs. Pendrake -his lusty 'step-mother.' There is a great sense of beauty and calm in the shooting of this terrible tale of Indian massacre, and Penn tries hard to capture the spirit of the book.
I'm afraid two things let the enterprise down a bit. One is the script from the normally excellent Calder Willingham (co-author of Paths of Glory and other outstanding films). He makes the Indians too nice, caught up in the revisionist spirit of the times. In Berger's book, make no mistake, the Indians were extremely violent, both to other Indians and white men. You know from the very beginning, when Jack's family is massacred by the Cheyenne and he is abducted - but in the film, by the Pawnee. Guess he did not want too much ambivalence, so the Indians are, pardon the expression, 'whitewashed.' Throughout the movie, white people are portrayed as depraved and crazy and Indians, somehow spiritual and nice (other than eating dog!). He's got Jack Crabb's voice, but not the true plot.
The second thing is ketchup. There is too much of the stuff, and it looks terrible. Scenes of violence have become a lot more realistic, and this has more of the red stuff than a busy Saturday night at McDonalds.
Nevertheless, it is well worth seeing, but is not a patch on the Coen Brother's new version of True Grit for capturing the era. It is more like the John Wayne version of this wonderful novel.
As a relatively extensive fictitious biography, this film ought to be tight with its relatively mere runtime of just a minute shy of 140 minutes, but there's still something excessive, to a point of aimlessness that is exacerbated by directorial cold spells, of which there are only a few, but enough for there to be occasions of blandness which distance resonance. Resonance is further betrayed by, of all things, a certain hurrying in narrative structure, which is driven by a narration that doesn't simply objectify storytelling and betray potential subjective immersion value, but dashes over a lot of elements, sometimes with an awkwardness that challenges developmental depth and keeps the shifts in focus from smoothing out. This inconsistency in pacing, at the very least, convolutes the structure of this layered film which is both overblown and undercooked, to the point of some glaring focal inconsistency that is even more problematic than the tonal unevenness. Storytelling ambitiously dances between often over-the-top satire and weighty dramatics which defuse each other as they jar back and forth, leaving the humor to be contradicted by the seriousness, which is in turn diluted by the humor. As uneven as the tone is, there is at least a certain consistency of cheesiness, whether it be within a humor that is often cornily overwrought, - trying too hard to be sharp as satire - or within the dramatics which often devolve to melodramatics, trying too hard to be engrossing as a human epic. The film is overwhelmingly ambitious, and too often, it is simply overwhelming with its ambition, and no matter how firm inspiration stands, all of this bloating, rushing and inconsistency, broken by a consistency in overt fluff, seem to kind of hold the final product back. That being said, the film still rewards the patient by meeting ambition with inspiration, and even some artistry.
John Hammond's score's minimalism underplays musical value that is underplayed enough by many quiet spots, but it's almost psychedelic, in a manner which compliments the surrealism of the film just as Harry Stradling Jr.'s cinematography handsomely polishes already handsome art direction. Well, Angelo P. Graham's art direction isn't so much aesthetically appealing in its beauty, but in its being so distinguished, and doing much to sell the evolution of the 19th century, the sense of which, of course, plays a big role in selling the progression of the narrative. There is not much dramatic consequence to this film as an extensive study on the eccentric life and times of an unconventional man, but as a surrealistic portrait and satire on the distinctions between native tribes and God-fearing whites of America during the 19th century, over an extensive character piece, this story concept is promising, and done justice by highlights in storytelling. Calder Willingham's script is all over the place, but it's often well-rounded in it characterization, as well as colorful in the drawing of clever humor and dynamic set pieces, while Arthur Penn's direction augments the color with plenty of stylish and slick pacing which is tasteful enough to move at times. Alternating between superficial and overblown, storytelling here is flimsy, but captures a fusion of scope and intimacy which makes the pseudo-epic pretty compelling in its inspiration. The performances ice quite the colorful cake, with highlights that include the beautiful Faye Dunaway as a hypocritical and unpredictable woman of seduction, as well as Chief Dan George as a wise and good-hearted, if eccentric tribe chief and spiritual guide, and leading man Dustin Hoffman, whose charm and layering sell the confusion and, of course, the emotional sensitivities of a man torn between cultures. Emotional highlights are few and far between, but between these highlights, Hoffman truly mesmerizes in his changing so much in the titular Jack "Little Big Man" Crabb character, a spiritual being, a sinner, a stranger in strange lands, a family man, a mad man, and, of course, a good man, a compelling man who thrives on Hoffman's charisma, as surely as the film itself thrives on him as a character study that, through all of its many missteps, entertains and compels enough to make a rewarding western drama.
When it's time to go back in the ocean again (Well, I guess I'm playing The Hives, because "Hey Little World" is pretty fun for modern rock), uneven pacing, focus and tone, as well as overtly cheesy humor and some histrionic dramatics threaten to wash away reward value that is ultimately secured firmly enough by the nifty style, immersive art direction, sharp storytelling and strong acting - especially by Dustin Hoffman - which mold Arthur Penn's "Little Big Man" into a mighty compelling study of the eccentric culture clashes along the frontiers of the 19th century.
3/5 - Good
Gah. This movie is so frustrating. I want to love it for Arthur Penn's peerless staging and ambition, but for some reason I just ended up really liking it. Don't get me wrong, please-- "LBG" is a damn fine flick, even flat-out terrific, the sort of epic on which Hollywood would sooner wipe its ass with millions of dollars as opposed to billions than take a leap of artistic and cultural faith. Dustin Hoffman is perfectly cast as the opaque faux-Indian white man Jack Crabb, a showcase Hoffman at every corner delivers with wry humor and neurotic, fish-out-of-water empathy. And Faye Dunaway, as Hoffman's unhappily Christian foster mom, will take your breath away, both in terms of beauty and the Southern-belle devastation with which she plays her character.
"Little Big Man" kind of goes on too long, starts to repeat itself, and just loses steam in general with narrative inconsistencies and a sour final beat that left me more puzzled than emotionally winded. But the masterful Penn tells it all with such deep wonder. He so finely entrances us with Crabb's bravado because he, too, we feel, isn't quite sure what to make of it himself.
Again, kind of stressed when I was watching it, and extremely not in the mood for what this film had to offer; perhaps I would appreciate it more if I saw it again, but that won't be anytime soon.
It spans time, it has multi settings and plots, and I Loved seeing it as a young boy with my friends with the popcorn etc...great acting the whole deal...Its a gem...