Critics Consensus

Giant earns its imposing name with a towering narrative supported by striking cinematography, big ideas, and powerful work from a trio of legendary Hollywood leads.



Total Count: 41


Audience Score

User Ratings: 24,233
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George Stevens' sprawling adaptation of Edna Ferber's best-selling novel successfully walks a fine line between potboiler and serious drama for its 210-minute running time, making it one of the few epics of its era that continues to hold up as engrossing entertainment across the decades. Giant opens circa 1922 in Maryland, where Texas rancher Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson) has arrived to buy a stallion called War Winds from its owner, Dr. Horace Lynnton (Paul Fix). But much as Bick loves and knows horses, he finds himself even more transfixed by the doctor's daughter, Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), and after some awkward moments, she has to admit that she's equally drawn to the shy, laconic Texan. They get married and Leslie spends her honeymoon traveling with Jordan to his ranch, Reata, which covers nearly a million acres of Texas. Once there, however, she finds that she has to push her way into her rightful role as mistress of the house, past Bick's sister, Luz (Mercedes McCambridge), who can't accept her brother's marriage or the changes it means in the home they share. Also working around Reata is the laconic ranch hand Jett Rink (James Dean) -- from a family as rooted in Texas as the Benedicts but not nearly as lucky (or "foxy"), Jett is dirt-poor and barely educated at all, and he fairly oozes resentment at Bick for his arrogance, although Luz likes him and for that reason alone Bick is obliged to keep him on. One thing Jett does have in common with his employer is that he is in awe of Leslie's beauty; another is his nearly total contempt for the Mexican-Americans who work for them -- Jett and Bick may have contempt for each other, but either one is just as likely to dismiss the Mexican-Americans around them as a bunch of shiftless "wetbacks." Luz feels so threatened with a loss of power and control that she decides to assert herself with War Winds, yet another "prize" that Bick brought back from Maryland that resists her authority -- then decides to ride the stallion despite being warned that no one but Leslie is wholly safe on him, and spurs him brutally in an effort to break him, which ends up destroying them both in the battle of wills she starts. After Luz's death, Jett learns that she left him a tiny piece of land for his own, on Reata, which he refuses to sell back to Bick, preferring to keep it for his own and maybe prospect for oil on it. Meanwhile, Leslie and Bick have their own problems -- Leslie can't abide the wretched conditions in which the Mexican families who work on Reata are allowed to live, taking a special interest in Mr. and Mrs. Obregon and their baby, Angel; but Bick doesn't want his wife, or any member of his family, concerning themselves with "those people." Leslie's humanity and her independence push their marriage to the limit, but Bick comes to accept this in his wife, and in four years of marriage they have three handsome children, a boy and two girls, and a loving if occasionally awkward home life. Meanwhile, Jett strikes oil on his land -- which he's named Little Reata -- and in a couple of years he's on his way to becoming the richest man in Texas, getting drilling contracts on all of the land in the area (except Reata) and making more money than the Benedicts ever saw from raising cattle. Bick is almost oblivious to the way Jett grows in power and influence across the years and the state, mostly because he's got his own family to worry about, including a son, Jordan III (Dennis Hopper), who doesn't want to take over the ranch from him, but wants instead to be a doctor; an older daughter, Judy (Fran Bennett), who wants to study animal husbandry and marry a local rancher (Earl Holliman) and start a tiny spread of her own; and a younger daughter, Luz (Carroll Baker), who's just a bit man-crazy and star-struck by the movies.The American entry into the Second World War and the resulting need for oil forces Bick to go into business with Jett and allow him to drill on Reata, and suddenly the Benedicts are wealthy enough to be part of Jett Rink's circle, which includes the governor of the state and at least one United States senator at his beck and call -- and Luz develops a serious crush on Jett, who likes his women young and is especially attracted to her, as Bick's and Leslie's daughter. Young Jordan marries Juana, a Mexican-American nursing student (Elsa Cardenas), and his father accepts it begrudgingly, with help from Leslie. The war kills Angel Obregon (Sal Mineo), a death that even affects Bick, but the Benedict family gets through it wealthier than ever and grows some more with the birth of Jordan IV to Jordie and Juana. When the family attends a gala opening of Jett Rink Airport, which concludes with a dinner honoring Jett's success, however, young Jordan's wife is humiliated by Jett's racist edicts, and he is beaten up by Jett's men after punching the oil baron. Seeing this, Bick challenges his old rival to the fight that's been brewing for a quarter of a century and wins by default, Jett being too drunk to defend himself or to hit; he's also too drunk to make the grand speech that was to climax the celebration, and he ends up alone in the ballroom. The Benedicts have it out with each other, young Jordan accusing his father of being as much a racist as Jett, and Leslie caught in the middle between her husband and her son. It looks like the Benedicts may lose each other, until an encounter with a racist diner owner forces Bick to stand up and get knocked down (more than once) defending his daughter-in-law and his grandson. Seen today, Giant seems the least dated of any of James Dean's three starring films, in part because it addresses issues that remain relevant more than 50 years later, and also because it has the best all-around acting and the best script of any of the three. Taken in broader terms, it's even better, with two of the best performances that Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson ever gave, and perhaps the second best of Hudson's whole career (after Seconds) -- the only unfortunate element at modern theatrical screenings is the tendency of younger viewers, who only know him in terms of the revelations late in his life of his being gay, to laugh and snicker at elements of Hudson's characterization; but his work is so good that the titters usually fade after the first 30 minutes or so. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi


Elizabeth Taylor
as Leslie Benedict
Rock Hudson
as Bick Benedict
James Dean
as Jett Rink
Carroll Baker
as Luz Benedict II
Jane Withers
as Vashti Snythe
Chill Wills
as Uncle Bawley
Sal Mineo
as Angel Obregon II
Dennis Hopper
as Jordan Benedict III
Judith Evelyn
as Mrs. Horace Lynnton
Paul Fix
as Dr. Horace Lynnton
Rod Taylor
as Sir David Karfey
Earl Holliman
as Bob Dace
Robert Nichols
as Pinky Snythe
Charles Watts
as Whiteside
Carolyn Craig
as Lacey Lynnton
Monte Hale
as Bale Clinch
Mary Ann Edwards
as Adarene Clinch
Sheb Wooley
as Gabe Target
Victor Millan
as Angel Obregon I
Pilar del Rey
as Mrs. Obregon
Maurice Jara
as Dr. Guerra
Noreen Nash
as Lorna Lane
Francisco Villa-Lobos
as Mexican Priest
Guy Teague
as Harper
Ray Bennett
as Dr. Borneholm
Barbara Barrie
as Mary Lou Decker
George Dunn
as Verne Decker
Slim Talbot
as Clay Hodgins
Tex Driscoll
as Clay Hodgins Sr.
Juney Ellis
as Essie Lou Hodgins
Bill Hale
as Bartender
John Wiley
as Assistant Manager
Ina Poindexter
as Young Woman
Carl S.G. Moore
as Toastmaster
Ella Ethridge
as General's Wife
Paul Kruger
as General
Eddie Baker
as Governor
Ethel Greenwood
as Governor's Wife
Maxine Gates
as Mrs. Sarge
Steven Kay
as Jordan (age 4)
Christine Werner
as Luz as an Infant
John Garcia
as Angel as an Infant
David Jiminez
as Angel (age 5)
Wanda Lee Thompson
as Judy II (age 2)
Ramon Ramirez
as Jordy IV (age 2)
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News & Interviews for Giant

Critic Reviews for Giant

All Critics (41) | Top Critics (10) | Fresh (39) | Rotten (2)

  • Including a fine performance from Elizabeth Taylor, great acting from Rock Hudson and a piercing portrayal from James Dean. Giant stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the great ones.

    Oct 10, 2018 | Full Review…
  • Giant, in spite of its length, seldom seems long -- its story is too eventful, its effects too picturesque, and its director too skilful for that even over so long an expanse of time. It may not be a great film but it is certainly an awesome one.

    Mar 21, 2018 | Full Review…
    Top Critic
  • Sweeping saga of American prosperity that reveals its racist underbelly; glorious star vehicle that upends rigid gender roles; modern western that questions the validity of frontier land ownership.

    Sep 28, 2016 | Full Review…
  • An excellent film which registers strongly on all levels, whether it's in its breathtaking panoramic shots of the dusty Texas plains; the personal, dramatic impact of the story itself, or the resounding message it has to impart.

    Nov 13, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Much of it is awful, but it's almost impossible not to be taken in by the narrative sprawl.

    Nov 13, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Stevens' sprawling epic of Texan life, taken from Edna Ferber's novel, strives so hard for Serious Statements that it ends up as a long yawn.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Giant

  • Jun 01, 2012
    I've heard the legends that giants roamed the earth before the days of Jesus, and if I didn't believe those legends already, I certainly don't now, because I didn't see one giant in here. In case you're among the countless who don't get it, director George Stevens went on to do "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (Hence the "Before Jesus" bit), yet that film and this one aren't his only classic hits, as the boy also went on to do, and before this film, he did "Shane". Before that, there may as well be one big blank on his filmography, because after years in the industry, Stevens was only able to had those three aforementioned films and this one for people to remember him by, and even then, a good couple of people still don't know about these classics. It's sad how it took Stevens so long to create a considerable legacy in film, and he was relatively lucky, and meanwhile, James Dean got his legacy through only three non-extra filmography entries... and a tragically early death, so maybe Steven' story of acquiring a legacy isn't the saddest in the world. Poor James Dean may look a whole lot like James Franco, yet he was, for obvious reasons and in many more ways, more along the lines of a Heath Ledger of his time, in that he was such a pretty face, yet had much more to offer to film than just movie star looks, and wasn't about to let you forget it, delivering one good performance after another until he finally delivered one particularly sharp show-stealing performance that he never got the chance to see. Of course, the only difference is that, while the great Mr. Dean is pretty sharp in this film, he's certainly not making as stunning of an exit as Heath Ledger did (Of course, who could?), and yet, this film is still considerably better than "The Dark Knight"... you overrating nerds. Still, as much as this was a good note for James Dean to go out on, as well as a good second entrance in George Stevens' all too brief legacy-setter streak, this giant production doesn't make it very far before it starts hitting some bumps. Running at only 201 minutes, it's to be expected that this film gets hurried in its flow quite often. Wow, not even I can fully tell whether I'm being sarcastic or blunt, as hurried exposition was such a common occurance with films of this type and era that not even the longest of films could bail out of it, and sure enough, this film can't escape from the clutches of hurried storytelling, and it's that clutch that nearly drives this film into submission. Immediate development is scarce and progressive development is hardly a compensation, as very major pieces of exposition go hurried, if not just plain glossed over, while much of the minor pieces of exposition that would have smoothed out the story flow go neglected. This considerable blow to exposition leaves many story shifts and character turns, of which there should be many, to feel jarring, if they can be felt at all, as the tone of the film is over consistent to the point of repetition. There's not much slow-down to this whopping picture, making it all too overactive, with little meditation and subtlety in the way of story substance, made all the worse by a considerable lack of exposition, so where we could have enjoyed the compelling experience of watching business flourish, family grow and everyone mature, both in good and bad ways, the should-be central aspects find themselves standing as though they were mere side notes, and there's no other focus for this film to center around. A film that boasts a story as worthy as this doesn't stand much of a chance to every being mediocre, much less bad, yet with that story going tainted enough in execution, you better hope that there is at least "some" compensation. Well, sure enough, that's exactly what you get with this film, compensation for all of the fault, and enough to where this film towers as a generally satisfying film, with style that is consistently satisfying. Being that this was 1956, don't expect William C. Mellor's cinematography to have aged terribly gracefully, yet it remains impressive in its relative quality, with enough scope in its capture of the environment to produce an epic sweep - even with the material being of limited sweep potential - and set an effective atmosphere. That atmosphere goes further augmented by the remarkable location choices, which are handsomely simple and supplementary to the film's themes of wealth and progress transcending limited opportunity, yet not always in most entirely fruitful fashion. It's good that we at least have the locations to emphasize the themes, because lord knows neither the storytelling or script are going to do it, as the film's progression is just so messily tossed together into one straight line of limited dynamicity and little room for investment to go evoked. However, while that is typically the mark of death, or at least total disappointment on a film, although there's no getting around this film's squandered potential of being more subtle and comfortably loose, director George Stevens all but makes up for his glaring faults in story progression with a generally striking degree of depth in his handling what aspects are meditated upon. Sure, considering the sensibilities of the time, there's not a tremendous amount of emotional meditation or depth, yet there is enough resonance in the air to give a sense of the time and place, extracting enough of both the intrigue and, most of all, the charm of the subject matter to make the film consistently entertaining and engaging. The performers help in this resonance, with the lovely Elizabeth Taylor pulling her classic move of messing up one line delivery after another, yet shockingly making up for that with an effective and layered presence, while Rock Hudson delivers sternness and vulnerability in presence of a proud yet flawed man and the late, great James Dean posthumously stealing the show with his inspired portrayal of a nobly simple, yet unflinching charmer slipping into complex corruption as fortune falls upon him, a role horribly betrayed by the faulty exposition, yet still executed well enough by Dean to earn your investment and show just how great of a loss the death of such a talent was. Were the film looser and more comfortable in its meditation and progression, it could have been immensely more affecting, yet where the film could have fallen flat because of its unrealized potential, it succeeds with the help of style, charm and deph within what thoroughly explored aspects there are, of which, there's enough for the film to stand rewarding and enjoyable. At the end of a lifetime, which is apparently a day by this film's sense of time, the drastic rushing of potential affecting meditation and exposition taints the film's subtlety and depth, while a constant tone of limited dynamicity and slow-down render the film repetitious and potentially fall-flat, only for a handsome and theme-supporting sense of style and production to stand as supplements to the degree of depth and consistently engaging charm set by director George Stevens and the inspired performers, ultimately leaving "Giant" to stand as a tragically under explored epic, yet still tower as an entertaining and mostly satisfying effort. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jan 30, 2012
    George Stevens is lucky he made this when he did, since I doubt he'd have been able to get away with making a film that favored storytelling over running time in this day and age. Yeah, that's right, this sucker is 210 gloriously excessive minutes of soapy melodrama on a grand scale, covering the lives of a few generations of rivalry and love between old money Texas cattle barons and new money Texas oil tycoons during the early 20th Century. It touches upon an interesting bit of Texas history, and deals with issues of racism, classism, and female independence as well, although these last three issues don't come as revolutionary like they did in 1956. This is a sprawling film, and, though it does have some really good moments, I hesitate to call it a classic. It's overlong (in places), really soppy and melodramatic, a bit dated, and doesn't have the weight it could. I sure as hell dug the production aspects though, that's for sure. This sucker as great cinematography, wonderful sets and costumes, decent music, and some excellent shooting locations. Oh yeah, and the performances are pretty decent, too. You've got young Elizabeth Taylor putting in some solid work, a decent turn from Rock Hudson, and James Dean in his final film (he died a few days after he finished shooting his scenes) knocking it out of the park in a very histrionic performance as the rugged rogue. There's also young Dennis Hopper and scene stealing Mercedes McCambridge. All in all, a decent film, but nothing truly remarkable beyond the surface. It's definitely deserving of the title epic though, even if it is fluff.
    Chris W Super Reviewer
  • Nov 23, 2011
    A brave, and epic film for its time. You cannot help but be amazed by its bold message, it's strong acting, and the amount of issues he tackles in this film.
    Reid V Super Reviewer
  • Mar 23, 2011
    A film that lives up to its title, truly grand in scope and (unfortunately) in length. Though it's beautiful to look at and though the acting - particularly by James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor - is quite accomplished, many scenes don't do a lot to advance the plot, and many subplots come off as extraneous. I liked that this was a sort of love letter to Texas, a take-it-or-leave-it account of the frontier spirit and the state's growing pains, and the concern for what happens when that trail-blazing mentality becomes cold competition two or three generations down the line. The film was setting up to be a tragedy, and almost delivered in a way that would've made American Shakespeare of it, but it opted for the anti-racism angle in the end; though I'm sure that broke ground in 1956, assessing it from a story standpoint instead of a social one, the ending - in fact, the last half-hour or more - gets away from what the story was about: ambition. The film is in a way a lot like its central character, falling flat on its face in the end due to its grandiose objectives, but to sustain my attention for over three hours, it had to have done something right. Just compelling enough to not turn off, and something you should make yourself watch, but it's wishy-washy for an epic and it's just not all that it's cracked up to be.
    Daniel P Super Reviewer

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