The Great Santini Reviews
Superb performance by Robert Duvall in the lead role. Good support from Blythe Danner and Michael O'Keefe.
The film ends poetically...a glimpse into the future that will be the Vietnam war...and the choices the family has to make forward. A movie that could have been great, but instead wanders into cliche storytelling.
Emotionally devastating...particularly if you are from a home where a tough as nails U.S. Marine set the laws. I unfortunately could relate to it all.
In time of war, it brings the true price of war (from an American perspective) boiling to the raw surface. We all must remember all those scarred from serving too many tours of duty for you and I.
So the story begins with WWII fighter pilot Bull Meechum also known as The Great Santini (Robert Duvall who really had a knack for playing those loud mouth, tough as nails military types around this time...)living it up in his last days in the service over in Europe. After some amusing antics he heads back home to his family where the story really picks up, a charismatic, crazy Marine interacting in his family life though mostly with his oldest son Ben (Michael O'Keefe getting in one of the more solid teen performances of the decade before immediately plunging into mediocrity the next year with Caddyshack). We see the family again unearthed as they are after all army brats again and moved to South Carolina upon his return and typical life in the south drama (he has a black friend and half the town is racist towards him!) is mixed in with Santini's bullying parenting anchored by Duvall's strong and riveting performance. And the plot follows typical Pat Conroy plot devices, abusive Dad, black friend, racism in the town, evil bastard character who is eaten by an animal,a humorous and strong bond with siblings and eventual reconciliation with father. It leaves out the rape but don't worry it's in the book, if it worked once of course Conroy will use it again!
As a whole I enjoyed it, but it still had the feel of this gritty true to life drama and never delivered with a real and natural balls out climax. I mean it had two surprising and crazy scenes where a character dies actually but both felt so forced and unnecessary like the writers were just like, wait this is supposed to be pretty intense isn't it...let's kill a character and it certainly fails at delivering the emotional payoff. But the biggest flaw that the book suffers from too is that Santini doesn't seem like that bad of a father...In the pantheon of Fathers in Pat Conroy Books he probably wouldn't even be up there so you're kind of left wondering if some scenes are supposed to have different effects on us. Prince of Tides brilliantly created a crazy over the top abusive father who in one scene smashes the mothers face into the TV for daring to insist he sing Happy Birthday to his twins and deals with the great psychological topic of how we love our parents despite whatever they've put us through. Meanwhile in this corner, MY father was more abusive than Santini and I don't consider myself a particularly abused child. I've seen Middle school bullies do more psychological and physical damage so I'm almost curious what a more in your face Director these days when abusive parents are far from taboo in Hollywood would do with the basis of this story.
But still this is the best movie based off a Pat Conroy book and captures that very Conroy feeling of warm fuzziness mixed with joking bravado. It's a successful film as an adaption and in its own right and while some parts haven't aged very well I can only think of one stupid and exceedingly poorly done scene that could never be saved...you'll know it, you'll have doubts that it's it at first but it goes on for a long, long time. Plus it's pretty cool that the nice house they use in this was later used as the summer house in The Big Chill, after having it pointed out I could totally tell it was rather neat. So whether a fan of Conroy, the military, family dramas, Robert Duvall or indeed 70s Cinema this forgotten film is one well worth checking out.