(1970) (directed by Mike Nichols)
(***** out of 5)
> Check out this cast!
Alan Arkin, Martin Sheen, Richard Benjamin, Art Garfunkel, Jack Gilford, Buck Henry, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Jon Voight, Martin Balsam, Paula Prentiss, Orson Welles, Bob Balaban, Norman Fell, and Charles Grodin!
– Frankly, that list is reason enough to want to see this finely crafted adaptation of Joseph Heller’s seminal 1961 anti-war sensation that changed the English dictionary forever. (Millions of people who never read the book or seen the movie, know what a “Catch 22” is, and use it routinely to describe an inherently absurd vicious cycle where two things are dependent on each other, yet mutually-exclusive.) Assembled here, is quite simply one of the best casts assembled for any movie, ever. Everyone is wonderful in every scene, from Charles Grodin’s best screen turn ever to the single funniest scene I’ve ever seen Orson Welles do.
. The old adage that ‘the movie is never as good is the book’ often feels true- but it’s a misnomer. It’s comparing apples and oranges. True, they’re both round fruit, but their similarities end there. I would argue that this is one of those rare cases where the movie is just as good as the book- or even better, because there is a long, listless segment near the end of the book that dragged down the narrative so much it kind of lost me, but the movie wisely truncates this to keep the dramatic tension going. And though the visualiztion of a book in a fixed form like a movie limits the viewer to the filmmaker’s vision, verses the limitless vista of the reader’s imagination, Mr. Nichols was the right man for the job. While staying very faithful to the book, this world-class director brought to life a stunning collection of vivid characters, presented in what was at the time, an absolutely unique way. His editing here is reminiscent of a jigsaw puzzle that makes more and more coherent sense with each piece fitted together. It’s non-linear: beginning at a climactic point and jumping back to fill in the detail. We keep returning again and again to the traumatic event that caused the wonderful main character Yossarian (perfectly played by Alan Arkin at his very best), to become “crazy” to avoid the ever-escalating quota of dangerous bombing runs that were required of his squadron. It’s harrowing stuff for what is often a very funny satire of the absurd military mindset that leads us into absurd, mindless wars. Each time we revisit the scene, we see what we have already seen plus a bit more, until at last: the big reveal. It’s a tease that works brilliantly. It puts us inside Yossarian’s mind: like him, we keep reliving that moment that he cannot get out of his troubled memory. It’s a very powerful and effective device that makes the book boldly cinematic.
. I am tempted to say more about this, one of my favorite movies of all time, but it would all be gushing over this scene, or that actor. Let’s leave it at this:
> If you haven’t seen this great gem of the 70’s, now is the time. If you read the great book way back when, and you labor under the misconception that the movie will somehow be “lesser”, please, please disabuse yourself of that notion, and SEE THIS GREAT MOVIE.
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