Of Mice and Men (1992) / Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, mild language and some sexuality
Running Time: 115 min.

Cast: Gary Sinise, John Malkovich, Ray Walston, Casey Siemaszko, Sherilyn Fenn, John Terry, Richard Riehle, Alexis Arquette, Joe Morton
Director: Gary Sinise

Screenplay: Horton Foote (based on the novel by John Steinbeck)
Review published January 22, 2004

Of Mice and Men is Gary Sinise's (Forrest Gump, Apollo 13) take on the popular Depression-era novel of the same name by John Steinbeck.  It's been made many times, primarily on television, and while I haven't seen any of the other adaptations, it's hard to imagine that they might have been much better than this one.  Two reasons why this works so well: Gary Sinise's competent direction (it has thus far been the last thing he has helmed) and John Malkovich's (In the Line of Fire, Dangerous Liaisons) amazing performance, filming after they worked together on a stage production of the same story.

The film starts off with a woman running and screaming with fright, while two men, George and Lennie, run as fast as they can away from the scene.  It seems the oafish lummox, Lennie, has gotten the companions into trouble again, doing something he doesn't have the faculty to know better about.  Now they are on the road again looking for work as ranch hands, always keeping their spirits up about a future where they can own their own farm.  They eventually find a place, a somewhat repressive establishment where the owner's son has a hard time keeping tabs on his sheltered wife, who longs desperately for a place where she can be free from the boring farm life and hubby's jealous rants. 

It's a well-known story, and has been emulated in various other incarnations, so many of the story elements can be easily predicted long before they occur, whether you have read the book or not.  With many period piece films, it's not really the plot that serves as the backbone of the movie, but rather, the effectiveness in capturing the times as well as the themes presented that relate to them.  On that level, Of Mice and Men does a fine job telling this heart-breaking tale, during a time when people worked so hard for so little, with happiness only a thing in the mind. 

Like most films of this sort, the cinematography proves to be a stand-out, done effectively by Kenneth MacMillan (Henry V), working quite well in making us believe in the story at large.  The acting is terrific all the way through, from the two leads down to Sherilyn Fenn ("Twin Peaks", Boxing Helena), in one of her best roles.  Making this film is no easy feat, as Sinise had to contend with making sure the adaptation did justice to the book, which he does by enlisting the services of Horton Foote, who did the excellent screenplay for To Kill a Mockingbird

Of Mice and Men is a worthy film version of an American classic, and will probably be seen mostly by those who have read the book, whether in school or for their own enjoyment.  Even for those who haven't, its a worthwhile watch, even if it's just to see the John Malkovich convincingly transform himself so completely, you almost can't recognize him as a gentle giant of a man without many mental faculties to rely on.  Amazing to think that neither the film, nor any of its participants, had received any accolades at the time of its release.  It must have been a very good year for the movies.

-- Steinbeck's novel has been filmed before in a 1939 theatrical release, two American TV movies in 1970 and 1981, and a TV movie in Sweden called Moss och Manniskor.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo