Think of it as a more fun One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, only with a war going on. Kind of.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is one of my favorite movies of all time. Now, this movie was made over two decades earlier, so I really can't fault this movie for dealing with many of the same themes. Although, to be honest, the outward rebellion of people over a tyrannical system is nothing new. Just containing the cast creates a very volatile situation and both movies take full advantage of it.
Most of the movie is pretty slow. I'm really not sure if this movie should be classified as a comedy or drama. I just don't really feel like this is a traditional war movie becuase these guys never actually see war or battle. It's more Sgt. Bilko than Saving Private Ryan. The real thing about this movie is that it has these comedic moments, but rarely are the jokes overtly hilarious. Similarly, the drama in the movie is fairly contained for most of the movie, giving way to jokes and banter. I really just can't define this movie. It's entertaining, but not really. Really, the movie doesn't really become anything truly stellar until the last ten to fifteen minutes. I mean, there's stuff to follow, but the movie is a bit too straightforward.
What you are really watching this movie for is the cast, which is really top notch. I mean, Fonda, which is a pull in itself. (So much so that John Ford left the movie sooner than Henry Fonda did. The man hadn't acted in shy of a decade and he pulls that sh*t. The balls on that child abusing bastard!) Now, Fonda, by far (and being the titular character) steals the show. He's the one who's actually got the most depth to his performance and is central to the entire story. He's the Christ figure and it is really obvious how noble that character is. All of the other parts are fantastically played, but they're much more one-dimensional. Cagney is fantastic as the Nurse Ratchet character. He's really a bastard's bastard and shows no sign of competance or morals anywhere in the movie. I wouldn't say that he delivers a fantastic, nuanced performance. But this is his character acting, pure and simple. Similarly, we see the traditional character acting out of Jack Lemmon. Apparently, this movie spun Lemmon into similar parts after that. Really, I think this part was just an over-the-top version of his characters that we've seen time and time again both before and after the making of this film. He does that kind of character very well, so I cannot begrudge him that, but I would have loved to see a little depth in this one. Really, you know what the guy is going to do and when he's going to do it througout. There's little surprises when it comes to that character's arc.
I have to address that character in relation to the end. Like I mentioned, the end is what makes the movie. I kind of saw it coming, but it was effective regardless. The only problem is that as powerful and stunning as the ending is, the last (literally last) fifteen seconds are terrible! Before the "The End" sign come up, you wish that they just called it a day and didn't have that moment. I would have loved to had the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ending with the sink going through the bars and that's really it. We could have seen the plant go into the ocean and "The End." But that last second killed half-a-star for me and that's a bit disappointing.
I feel like this really is a movie without identity. It is trying to be so much and so different that it can't commit to a certain direction. That probably can be accounted for by having two directors, but I blame the movie in general. There's so much better and more focused tales of what is going on in this movie. Also, the overly straightforwardness of this movie makes me feel kind of dumb. The thing is, I'll still say that it was a pretty good movie, but I don't think it really deserves the classic attention that the 501 gives it.