28 sept. 2010

My Review: On the Waterfront (10/10)

¨You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley. ¨

If you aren`t moved by this quote then perhaps it`s because you haven`t seen 1954`s On the Waterfront. I know the phrase isn`t all that memorable if you read it on its own, but if you have seen this scene before then you probably get goose bumps just from reading it. Marlon Brando delivers this line to perfection in one of his best performances in a 5 minute scene with Rod Steiger in the back of a cab. It is considered by many as one of the best American scenes in film and in my opinion it is one of my favorites. I didn`t care that the taxi had Venetian blinds in the back window or that the set wasn`t great, all I really cared about were the two characters and the way they delivered each line. It is not only one of the most touching and memorable scenes of the movie, it stands on its own. If the film sucked for 100 minutes but still had this great cab scene in it I`d give this movie 10 stars anyways because it`s just worth it. However the other 95 minutes don`t suck, they are great as well so On the Waterfront ranks among the best films in history. Elia Kazan did a terrific job with the direction getting the best out of every actor on the set, the black and white cinematography by Boris Kaufman gave the film the realistic mood it needed, the screenplay written by Budd Schulberg and adapted from Johnson`s news articles about the mobs that ruled the docks was inspiring, and the original music by Leonard Bernstein made this a perfect film. The film has aged very well even now 55 years later, and one can still appreciate the eight Oscars it won. The film truly captures the essence of the fifties and the social injustice that was going on in the waterfront.

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a former boxer who had a lot of potential but wasn`t able to ever get a chance to fight for the title. He has been working at the docks ever since following orders from his corrupt boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) and his partner Charley (Rod Steiger) who is Terry`s older brother as well. Terry is uneducated and Johnny is like family for him, so he always is willing to do favors for him and his brother. One day they ask him to turn in one of his friends so they can convince him not to speak out against them in court. Malloy follows orders although little did he expect that they were going to murder his friend. He has mixed feeling about what happened but he lives under the ¨D and D¨ code, which means being deaf and dumb so he is not willing to tell anyone what has happened. The victim`s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint), is an innocent catholic educated girl that is trying to find out what has happened. She meets the priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden), and begs him to try to find out who killed her brother. It´s not long before Terry falls for Edie and she sees past his apparent tough guy attitude. There is some sweetness and kindness in Malloy who enjoys spending time in the rooftops tending to his pigeons. Terry struggles between remaining faithful to his boss and brother and speaking out against the injustice going on in the waterfront. Meanwhile Father Barry tries to stir some courage out of the workers who are being exploited by the mob.

 On the Waterfront is considered a masterpiece because Kazan was able to capture the injustices that were going on in the docks during the era in a very realistic and powerful way. He was against remaining silent and thought people should always speak out against evil. The worst thing one could do was to remain silent like the workers in the waterfront did because that just allows more evil to take place. Some think Kazan used this movie as an explanation as to why he whistle blew against some of his partners during McCarthy`s communist witch hunt. I think the film is much more than that however. The priest figure in the film serves as a symbol as to how sometimes the church remains silent against the abuse of the powerful over the poor. The Church should always take an interest towards the weak and defend them, and that is sort of what Father Barry does in some very memorable speeches. Terry`s character is also a key element of the film as we all can identify with what he was going through. He had a conflict of interest, but had to do what he thought was the right thing. The way he let himself be cheated out of being a contender for the boxing title, in a way represents all those wrong decisions we regret from our past that could have changed our lives in the future so we can easily identify with his character. Marlon Brando is such a great actor and he truly gives one of the best performances I have seen in a film. This film is required viewing for everyone. 

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