When one thinks of the term “Oscar bait”, and tries to put it to a film, more likely than not the film that comes up is The English Patient, directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Ralph Fiennes in a career-making role. So, why is The English Patient the definitive example of Oscar bait? The longer answer involves the lengthy running time, the winding and multi-layered narrative, the plot full of romantic tension and tragedy, the lush cinematography, laid out like a tapestry, the insane production value, and the swooning musical score; the shorter answer is, simply, to watch it and see for yourself.
Minghella bites off a hefty chunk of film here; with a narrative that twists and turns back and forth through time, and incorporating so many different characters and so many different interlocking character arcs, the screenplay had to be as tight as can possibly be to handle everything, and it does an admirable job, even if it does seem like it is juggling too many elements at times. The rest of the film is pretty much as I laid it out in my admittedly pithy opening; the production value is extreme, and utilized in as many ways as possible, the music is large and ever-present, and the cinematography is equally beautiful. The one thing I have yet to mention are the actors; Ralph Fiennes is a consummate actor here, both in his past, charming self and as the scarred, nameless English patient; indeed, additional thanks to the makeup job, he is hardly recognizable. As for the rest of the cast, all do excellent jobs, particularly Juliette Binoche and Kristin Scott Thomas.
To be fair, I didn’t hate The English Patient; I found it to be well done, and it rarely ceased to be entertaining. But for me, I couldn’t look past the veneer, that all of it was designed to be as opulent and lavish and award-winning as possible, and for me, this came across far too many times for me to completely fall in love with the film. It just seemed like there was too much here, too much to really handle it all. Yes, the film is also rather long, but after watching it, I’m not really certain how it could be shortened; there’s such an abundance of material, and I wasn’t convinced the film did a good job of handling all of it. At the very least, it kept it all in order and coherence, so for that, the film succeeded, but I can see how some may look down on this as just another Oscar-driven film, and even though I somewhat liked the film, I’d have to agree.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10