I appreciated The English Patient much more after I watched it than I initially did. That’s not saying I disliked it or hated it, my feelings were mixed until I could organize them out. The English Patient is, in my mind, not a great movie and undoubtedly flawed, plus it beat out the Coen brother’s masterpiece Fargo for Best Picture at the Oscars. But that being said, The English Patient is a good movie. It was satisfactory by the ending and overall I enjoyed the picture, a lot more than I thought I would.
The film starts off with a pilot (Ralph Fiennes) flying across the Middle Eastern desert only to be shot down and taken to an English hospital convoy. He becomes horribly disfigured by the fire and is known as the “English Patient” among the nurses because he gained amnesia after the crash and cannot remember his name.
When the pilot’s health starts failing, he is placed in the ruins of an old Italian monastery with Hana (Juliette Binoche), one of the nurses. Hana gives the pilot his medicine while he tries to recollect his memories
The movie is really two stories, one of what’s currently happening in the monastary and a series of flashbacks of the pilot’s past. As it turns out, the pilot is actually a Hungarian count named Laszlo de Almasay, who worked on making maps for British soldiers. He falls in love with a woman named Katherine Clifton (Kristen Scott Thomas), whose married but doesn’t care about her husband. Katherine soon has an affair with Almasay, and the movies carries on after this.
The English Patient stretches over two and a half hours and the length certainly hurts it. The pacing feels very slow, especially at the beginning of the movie, and I didn’t really carry an interest in the characters.
The final forty minutes, however, the film ties up all the loose knots and becomes much stronger. I watched the movie over a span of two days, something that I almost never do, which might have reflected on my opinion of the film.
But while the script wanders too long, the acting is very strong. There are good performances by Ralph Finnes and Juliette Binoche, plus I didn’t mention that William Dafoe was in the movie. The direction by Anthony Minghella doesn’t quite capture the same beauty that David Lean did with Lawrence of Arabia but is quite scenic.
So I guess I ultimately enjoyed The English Patient. It’s far from being the Oscar’s strongest Best Picture winner but the Academy has done much worse (see Titanic and Rocky). Maybe it’s a tad overrated by some, but the movie’s conclusion redeems its flaws.