Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
How does one follow a film that nabs the Oscar for Best Picture? With great difficulty, it would appear. A glance over the Oscar winners from the last decade shows an inconsistent track record. After the megahit Gladiator, Ridley Scott did quite well financially with Hannibal, though it didnít earn many accolades. The prolific directorís second 2001 release - Black Hawk Down - made up for this, as it succeeded both critically and financially; it wonít earn the $187 million of Gladiator, but itís done pretty well for itself.
Three of these 10 directors have yet to create a follow-up flick. As of February 10, 2002, weíve seen nothing else from Sam Mendes, James Cameron and Mel Gibson since 1999ís American Beauty, 1997ís Titanic, and 1995ís Braveheart, respectively. According to IMDB, Mendes has a new flick due in 2002, but I see no evidence of pending projects from Cameron or Gibson, at least not in regard to new directorial works.
Of all ten films considered here, 1996ís The English Patient seems to have made the smallest mark with audiences. With an ultimate gross of only $78 million, it stands as only one of two Best Picture winners from the last decade not to top $100 million. However, while Braveheart clocked in at a mere $75 million, it became very popular on video. The same never happened for Patient, and director Anthony Minghellaís follow-up, 1999ís The Talented Mr. Ripley also lacks much popular appeal. For my money, this was a better film than the long and tedious Patient, but critics disagreed, I guess. However, likely due to the presence of stars like Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow, Ripley earned $81 million at the box office, which makes it one of only two follow-ups to make more money than its Best Picture predecessor.
After 1992ís Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood made 1993ís A Perfect World. As I recall, this was actually a pretty solid flick. Nonetheless, despite the lead presence of Kevin Costner and Eastwood himself, it failed at the box office and received little critical praise.
Jonathan Demme did better with his successor to 1991ís The Silence of the Lambs. 1993ís Philadelphia made a surprisingly high amount of money for a movie about a lawyer dying of AIDS; $77 million isnít great objectively, but for this kind of flick, itís pretty terrific. It got good critical notices as well, though its main award presence came from Tom Hanksí receipt of his first Best Actor Oscar.
Hanksí second prize came in the Best Picture winner from the following year, 1994ís Forrest Gump. The second most-successful director of the ten, Robert Zemeckis didnít do quite so well with his follow-up project, 1997ís Contact. While not a flop, it was a critical and financial disappointment. Zemeckis would later rebound with hits like What Lies Beneath and Cast Away.
Unquestionably the most successful of these directors - and probably the number one director of all-time, at least in regard to financial matters - Steven Spielberg didnít produce a successor to his Oscar-winning 1993 opus Schindlerís List until 1997. With The Lost World - the first sequel to Jurassic Park - he made a lot of money; World was the other film to make more bucks than its Best Picture predecessor. However, the flick failed to earn a positive response from many critics. Spielberg would re-enter the winnerís circle again a year later, as 1998ís Saving Private Ryan made lots of cash and nabbed Spielberg his second Best Director Oscar.
Unfortunately for Senor Spielbergo, though, another flick would grab the Best Picture honor. That would be Shakespeare In Love. Directed by John Madden, the film was a hit from left field, as the cutesy romantic comedy about the worldís most famous writerís affairs made a more-than-respectable $100 million and won seven Oscars, including an acting nod for Paltrow.
Madden remained in the past for his follow-up, but at least he moved forward a few centuries. 2001ís Captain Corelliís Mandolin takes us to the 1940s and places us in World War II era Greece on the island of Cephallonia. Early on, we meet Pelagia (Penelope Cruz), the daughter of local Dr. Iannis (John Hurt). Though bright and interested in medicine herself, she seems bent on a more traditional path, as she gets engaged to handsome but uneducated fisherman Mandras (Christian Bale). From the start, it appears clear she doesnít really love him, but she tries to force herself to feel that way and seemingly pines for him when he goes away to join forces at war in Albania. Pelagia writes to Mandras daily but never receives any responses.
Eventually he returns and explains this with an admission of illiteracy. However, he soon must depart again to join the resistance. Although the Greeks battled back much larger Italian forces, the latterís Axis allies the Germans brought enough support to allow Mussoliniís armies to occupy Cephallonia. Included among the invading band is Captain Corelli (Nicolas Cage), a warm and jovial sort who seems ill-matched for wartime endeavors. With his beloved mandolin always strapped to his back, Corelli is a bigger-than-life sort who seems to want to have a good time all the time.
The invading forces billet Corelli in the home with Iannis and Pelagia. The doctor seems happy to have the captain since he brings much-needed medical supplies with him, but Pelagia appears resentful and cold. Inevitably - this is a movie - she starts to warm to him, though her prior attachment to Mandras causes her much consternation.
Much of the movie follows the peaceful occupation and the ways in which the Greeks and Italians start to come to care for each other. However, since the Italian army was essentially a joke, inevitably the Nazis need to bolster them; eventually the Germans arrive in Cephallonia and although the two are allies, the Italians are forced essentially to surrender and give up their weapons.
However, despite their words, the Nazis have no plans to let the Italians simply return home. Instead, they slaughter the Italian soldiers. Corelli survives and after a long recuperation, he joins with the resistance to get the Germans out of Cephallonia. The remainder of the film follows that battle, the burgeoning love between Corelli and Pelagia, and the ultimate aftermath of all this.
Essentially, Mandolin is a chick flick with war elements thrown in to make it more palatable for the males in the audience. Despite all that drama and the chaos that comes with it, the film remains a fairly standard love triangle at its core. Mandras loves Pelagia and she thinks she loves him but she actually loves Corelli.
All of this exists because itís the reason for the movie. On the negative side, I thought Cage and Cruz shared little chemistry, and it felt like they fell in love just because the script told them to do so. Their romance seemed forced and gratuitous, and frankly, I didnít believe much of it.
Since their passionate affair exists as the main point of the film, that may seem like an insurmountable obstacle, but surprisingly, it wasnít. Little about Mandolin did much for me, but I actually found it to be more entertaining and intriguing that I expected. Honestly, I watched the flick with great reluctance. Despite that, the film managed to keep me interested from start to finish. I canít say I was fascinated with what I saw, but it was enough to keep me going.
However, I can find little reason why this happened, for most of my thoughts about Mandolin are critical. As the lead, Cage seems badly miscast. His attempted Italian accent seems spotty at best, and he lacks the inherent joie de vivre to pull of a character like Corelli. On the other hand, Cage brings a depth to the personality that another actor might lack. This appears especially evident after the slaughter of the Italian soldiers, as the previously cheerful captain turns dark and morose. Cage turns in his best work during the filmís final act.
As for Cruz, I think sheís a lovely woman and may well be a fine actress. Iíve not seen any of her other work, so I canít really judge. However, she brings little to the table as Pelagia. Cruz simply seems crabby much of the time, and sheís got a weird Courtney Cox vibe that distracts me. While I canít claim sheís actually bad in the role, she doesnít do anything to help it succeed.
Director Madden keeps things moving at an acceptable rate. Although the film spans a period of a few years, it never feels rushed or like weíre missing anything. Instead, he manages to capture the flavor of the period well, and lets us take in the surroundings. He also brings some genuinely moving images to the screen, especially during the final act.
Ultimately, Captain Corelliís Mandolin didnít dazzle me, but I found it interesting and entertaining enough to gladly stick around for the full 129 minutes. The movie certainly had its flaws, many of which revolve around the cast. However, for some bizarre reason, it managed to overcome these and offer a reasonably compelling and absorbing tale.