Barry Lyndon (1975) is about an Irish man who tricks and deceits his way into aristocracy.
I’m not really familiar with Stanley Kubrick, but I’m highly interested in discovering his work (which is why I set up this blog!). Although he’s a pretty legendary director, I didn’t really know what to expect from this movie. His Dr. Strangelove is one of my favourite movies EVER, but 2001: A Space Odyssey kinda left me confused (I was watching it at 4am in the morning though). Furthermore, period movies and I usually don’t go too well together so I was a bit scared of watching this one.
Thankfully, Barry Lyndon is actually pretty good. Actually, you can really see Kubrick’s versatility as I’d never have guessed that Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon were made by the same director. The story is actually a very simple one, especially in comparison to the other two films. It follows Redmond Barry throughout the various points of his highly dishonourable life, such as when he deserts the army, spies for the Prussian Army and marries into the wealthy Lyndon family. It’s like a Forrest Gump done right movie, since it effectively brought out its message about how dishonest people will come to no good end.
The four technical awards that the film won are extremely deserving (cinematography, set decoration, score and costume design), and they played a huge part in making the film such an easy viewing experience for me. Seriously, even when I’m not that engaged by the story I can still be taken by the beautiful scenery, set decoration and costume design. I’m a bit less enthusiastic about the score, but it’s still great.
It is not uncommon to hear people complain about the film being boring, but I was quite okay with it. Then again, I’m the kind of person who finds widely considered “boring” films interesting so I can’t say I am the best judge of how interesting a film is. I was quite intrigued by the whole story actually, so obviously this wasn’t an issue for me. Each segment is pretty interesting and crucial to the story’s development, but I did think that the movie was overlong. Some aspects could have been more succint, such as the first part about Redmond’s affair with his cousin and when he was acting as a double agent for the Prussian Army. I get that it was to lead to the second part and explain how he escaped from the army, but I started losing my interest from there onwards. The second part about his loveless marriage with Lady Lyndon felt a bit like a soap opera at times too, though it was far from terrible.
The acting was ok, but nothing overly special. Ryan O’Neal is miscast in my opinion, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Kubrick was sort of forced into casting him since he was a huge star in the 70s and that was what the studios wanted. However, his acting is quite solid, and after watching this and Love Story, I’m realise that he is quite good at playing dislikeable, self-entitled and slimy characters. Hmm. He handled the character’s development and changes very well, but I did feel that he was in danger of underplaying too much at times, especially since he has the same sulky expression in 90% of the movie. But that was what the role required of him, so I didn’t really care. I’m not an accents expert, but I thought he sounded american, or at least he sounded different from the rest of the cast. That also didn’t bother me at all, obviously. On the other hand, Marisa Berenson gives an almost robotic performance that I couldn’t really warm up to. I get that she’s playing this high-class, empty woman who is stuck in a loveless marriage but she was pretty much just moping around with a blank expression on her face, even when she sees her husband kissing another woman. It’s a different, cold approach that I can see why people like, but I really felt that there was no tension whatsoever between her and O’Neal. Still, she had some okay-ish to good moments.
All in all, Barry Lyndon is a very good film that I did enjoy watching. It’s widely regarded as Kubrick’s best film, which kinda surprises me a little since I prefer Dr. Strangelove by quite a bit. I’m leaning more towards a 3.5/5 but the beautiful scenery, costumes and set decoration alone warrants a 4/5.