Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Movie Review: To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)


An adaptation of the literary classic, To Kill A Mockingbird matches the brilliance of the book and boasts Gregory Peck in the performance of a lifetime. 

It's the early 1930s, and young tomboy Jean Louise "Scout" Finch (Mary Badham) and her brother Jem (Philip Alford) live in Maycomb, Alabama with their widowed father Atticus (Peck). The town is struggling against both the Great Depression and the forces of racism, with Blacks confined to second class status. Scout and Jem entertain themselves by annoying the residents at the spooky Radley house down the street, where according to legend the vicious Boo Radley is chained to the furniture all day and comes out at night to frighten young children.

When Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a gentle Black man, is arrested for allegedly raping a woman from the white trash Ewell clan, Atticus is assigned to defend the accused. The town is mostly aghast that a white man will make the case for the innocence of a Black assailant against the word of his white accusers, but Atticus is unperturbed, believing in the power of a colour-blind justice system. The case goes to court and has far-reaching implications for Tom, the Ewells, Scout and Jem. Even Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) finally and unexpectedly emerges from his house at a most pivotal moment in Scout's life.

As an example of how to focus an adaptation, To Kill A Mockingbird sets the standard. The Horton Foote screenplay strips Harper Lee's book to its essence in an exemplary transition to the screen, allowing director Robert Mulligan to draw overwhelming power from the story of racial tensions in the deep south during the depression. The story of Mrs. Dubose is eliminated; neighbours are amalgamated; and the gossiping society ladies are disposed of altogether. The two hours are dedicated to the interaction with the Radley house and the Tom Robinson story, and as the two narratives merge, Mulligan ties the film with a perfect bow.

A model father and lawyer, Atticus Finch represents what a society can strive for. He is raising his children to be enlightened citizens of the world they will inhabit as adults, rather than the one they exist in as children. Teaching tolerance and charity, setting the highest example and yet allowing Scout and Jem to explore the world and make their own mistakes, Atticus is a beacon of progressiveness.

A perfect fit between actor and role, Gregory Peck's Academy Award winning performance oozes class, wisdom, and quiet pride. With the tumultuous events of Maycomb viewed through the eyes of Scout, young Mary Badham finds the delicate balance of a child transitioning from ramshackle tomboy to a precocious girl and gaining awareness of life's long list of injustices.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a gallant quest underlining work to done. Despite heroic courtroom efforts, Tom Robinson will only find justice when Atticus Finch is more real than ideal.






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