Plot: What’s it about?
As the final, brutal days of the European conflict in World War II unfold, a nurse finds herself entranced by her latest patient. Hana (Juliette Binoche) is haunted by the death and destruction she has seen, to the point where she believes that if she connects with someone, that person is doomed to perish as a result. She is wounded by what she has experienced, but she remains faithful to her duties, even in the most dire of circumstances. An unknown man has been brought with a medical convoy, but he is too weak to be transported further. The man has horrific burns all over his body, which make his skin look like scorched leather. Although the convoy moves on, Hana stays behind and promises to tend to this burned patient. She forges a makeshift hospital and continues her tasks, soon to be joined by some new faces. A pair of bomb disposal experts soon visit, one of whom is Kip (Naveen Andrews), a Sikh officer. Hana finds herself drawn to Kip, but is hesitant to reveal her feelings, fearful of her supposed curse. So he tends to the burned man, unaware of who he is or what his life might have been like. A more mysterious visitor is next to enter the picture, a man named Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), who seems to know about the burned man’s past. Will the truth ever be known about the burned man?
“The English Patient” was showed with critical praise and won nine Oscars, but has never been a high profile release. I am sure the Oscar wins drove in some new viewers, but nine times out of ten, people simply haven’t seen this movie. So is this one of those critical darlings that doesn’t play well in mixed audiences, or is “The English Patient” and an overlooked classic, just waiting to be embraced by mainstream viewers? In truth, I found this to be one of the best literary adaptations I have ever seen, thanks to incredible depth, a divine cast, and the courage to be faithful to the source material, even if that means going against box office rules. The casting process was tedious, as the studio wanted well known, bankable stars, while the producers had skilled performers in mind, an impasse which led to one studio dropping out of the production. But the struggle paid off, as casting choices such as Kristen Scott Thomas and Willem Dafoe, the two most contested options, proved to be brilliant and incredible. This movie is just like the novel, with more layers and depth than a single session can reveal, which means repeat performances are demanded. I found the second and third time around just as enjoyable as the first, a rare event these days. Miramax has finally given “The English Patient” the treatment it deserves, so this release is well recommended.
This movie won a truckload of Oscars, one of which was earned by Juliette Binoche for her excellent performance. Her role is one of pain and internal turmoil, not exactly a simple or easily executed one. But Binoche is on her game from second one and really drives home the character’s mechanisms in a spectacular performance. This is not the usual flashy, high profile role that wins Oscars either, instead it is a calm, but tortured one. Even if she didn’t have the Miramax machine behind her, Binoche would have claimed the statue. She is able to show us the tiniest glimmer of hope in a dark, worn character, not a simple task. In fact, most performers would overplayed that hope and lost the dark edge. Or they would have been unable to show that spark, which would have made the character too dark. Binoche has all her stars lined up here however, turning in an almost perfect performance that deserves much praise. I haven’t seen much of her since this movie, but let’s hope she scores more great roles soon. Other films with Binoche include Chocolat, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Alice and Martin, and Bad Blood. The cast also includes Ralph Fiennes (Red Dragon, The End of the Affair), Willem Dafoe (American Psycho, Spider-Man), and Kristen Scott Thomas (Gosford Park, Mission: Impossible).
Video: How does it look?
If you discount the Alliance Blu-ray, then this is the first time that “The English Patient” has appeared on a next generation format. That said, viewers will want to know if this version is worth the upgrade. In short – yes. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image almost immediately offers an improvement over the previous standard DVD. Colors seem to have more depth, the image more detail and the image appears to be cleaned up without any significant amount of DNR. The film has a plethora of earth tones, though they don’t look bad (which is very common with brown hues). For those that are curious as to the image quality then let me put your worries aside.
Audio: How does it sound?
In addition to the improved visuals, we’re also given a new DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. While not as much of a noticeable improvement as the video, this seemingly new mix seems to be a bit more encompassing. Surrounds are fairly active throughout especially during the plane crash sequence. While not a full-blown action movie, “The English Patient” does provide a very stable presence on the audio front. Dialogue is enveloping with a rich, crisp nature about it that will leave all satisfied.
Supplements: What are the extras?
I know I say this often, but there really isn’t anything new with this disc in regards to extras. If you own the two disc edition that came out in 2004 then you’ll find nothing new here. That’s kind of a shame too as this Best Picture winner is bound to have more out there (and it does as the Criterion LaserDisc from years back has some extras that aren’t included here). Having said that, we find two audio commentary tracks, one with director Anthony Minghella on his own and the second with Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz, and novelist Michael Ondaatje, both well worth a listen. I loved Minghella’s solo track, as he focuses like a laser on how the film was produced and he pulls no punches. Zaentz adds a lot to the second track, if just with his stories about how different the film could have turned out. “The Making of The English Patient.” This piece runs almost an hour in duration and covers a lot of ground. This is not as in depth and candid as I would like, but it is a solid effort and better than the usual promotional fluff. A collection of five featurettes captures the backstory on novelist Ondaatje, while interviews with key crew members shed some light on how the shoot was produced. This release also includes brief cast & crew interviews, a short look at the real Count Almasy, three text reviews of The English Patient, some deleted scenes, and a few other assorted featurettes.