Taking the movie on its own merits, it is a masterfully coordinated collection of many characters (mostly fictional) whose lives intertwine in multiple ways. Where other movies beat you over the head pointing out such coincidences, Ragtime presents them with a subtlety you don't often experience in American cinema. All actors in the film deliver -- from legends like James Cagney to bit part players like Fran Drescher (of all people) -- and none quite so brilliantly as Howard Rollins who shines brightly here at the height of his short career.
I've always thought Ragtime is one of those special films -- underrated upon its release and a thing popular movie audiences don't quite know what to do with -- that will one day be considered a masterpiece. After recently watching it again after many years, I have no reason to think otherwise.
Set in the early 20th century the movie initially follows the lives of several characters, from different walks of life. Their stories are not independent - their lives do intersect, sometimes fleetingly, sometimes indirectly, sometimes more permanently.
This creates a rambling, unfocused, feel to the movie, especially in the first half to 2/3rds of it. After a while it mostly settles down and tends to focus on one main character, but in the early stages it is difficult to get into the movie, due to the disjointed nature of it.
Ultimately it is quite engaging, as you start to support certain characters and the plot takes shape.
Solid performances all round. ELizabeth McGovern and Howard E Rollins received Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, Oscar nominations for their performances.
James Cagney, 82 years old at the time, gives a great, gravitas-filled, performance as the Police Chief. This was to be his last cinematic role, though he did make one more movie, a TV movie, before his death in 1986.
Also interesting to see many now well-known stars in early-career minor roles: Jeff Daniels, Samuel L Jackson, Fran Drescher, John Ratzenberger.
The other main strength is in the excellent cast. Howard E. Rollins was perfect for the role of Coalhouse Walker Jr, as was Brad Dourif as Younger Brother. Both of them were almost exactly how I pictured the characters. The movie also lends an immediacy to the plot that isn't felt from reading a novel, so I was able to sympathize with Coalhouse in a way that I didn't get to in the book. I still enjoy the book more, though, because of its strange first half, daring structure, and interesting voice.
"Ragtime" is a 1981 American drama film, directed by Milos Forman, based on 1975 historical novel Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow. The film was nominated for eight Oscars. I havenīt red the novel yet, but bought it not that long ago. But, the movie version has been on my to see list since 1981 and finally I got hold of a DVD copy. "Ragtime" has a solid foundation, thereīs a focus on many strong subjects like racism, family life, love, life, death, dreams etc, itīs nicely shot and we get some really good acting performances from everyone involved. But, as Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote in 1981, "Yet I'm not at all sure that anyone who has not read the book will have any idea what's going on much of the time, or why.", which pretty much sums it up. Itīs quite clear Milos Forman didnīt succeed in getting a script that managed to put this epic book properly on the screen. The film crosscuts the different story lines, which in the book most likely come together in a way that works, awkwardly and the parts with Evelyn Nesbit and Tateh makes no real sense as you get the feeling that the main story is more or less the one concerning Coalhouse Walker Jr. Vincent Canby also wrote "This is a lot of plot for one film to cover coherently in a short period of time, and ''Ragtime'' doesn't. Time itself is totally confused. Years appear to pass, but the children don't age. As the movie progresses, one becomes aware of a kind of desperation on the part of the film makers." So, thereīs a failure in the editing as well and I can only say that ''Ragtime'' is a disappointment in the end as the production failed to create a coherent period piece in my eyes.