(American, 1996, 160 minutes, color, 35mm)
"What I enjoyed most about the novel and now Minghella’s magnificent cinematic version is that the themes within are so complex, so indistinct, so layered and so multiple that I would never presume to report what the film—or the book—is about. I can only recount its ingredients; in it are small, poetic essays on love, passion, loyalty, patriotism, imperialism, war, cynicism, art, history, racism, loss and courage.
"Minghella imposes harmony in what ought to have been confusing leaps in chronology and a scattered weave of separate narratives about unrelated characters—all set against an array of complicated military, archaeological and marital maneuvers. Never mind the audacity in adapting a book whose chief figure spends half the story in bed dying of severe burns.
"Minghella compresses all this material into a 161-minute movie that has the scope and beauty of Lawrence of Arabia (with the help of sensuous photography by John Seale) and the passion, romance and sweetness of Children of Paradise. How he achieves this is also unfathomable. All that can be said is that Minghella is an artist and he has painted a masterpiece.
— Barbara Shulgasser, The San Francisco Examiner
"Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient, which begins with an impossibly tiny plane silhouetted against the vast, empty, burnished desert below, is an essay on love as a sometimes terrible force of nature, a force greater than gravity, a force which finds the loopholes in the laws of physics. Adapted from Michael Ondaatje’s dreamy, wounding novel, the movie is about a flight too close to the sun, and the long, burning, inevitable fall back to earth. It is, in short, the sort of lofty undertaking, which could easily turn a director into an international laughingstock. The English Patient is thick with potential to become a silly, soft-core, horrendously overblown Harlequin Romance—something like, say, Roland Joffe’s stupefying Scarlet Letter.
"The story begins, like a good film noir, almost at the end. The mystery of the potent love story at its center takes shape in jagged bits and pieces, shards which gradually form a whole. . . .
"The movie treads on dangerous, sacred ground, inviting comparison to such classics as Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago. Because Minghella is entirely sincere in his undertaking, there is no margin for error. This is the kind of epic romance, which will fall dreadfully, horribly, embarrassingly flat if the story doesn’t match the scenery, or if the acting doesn’t convey world-shattering passion. But the movie never wavers; Minghella achieves something nearly impossible. The English Patient is as heartbreaking as it is gorgeous; it feels like a classic already.
— Mary Brennan, www.film.com
" . . . Minghella solves the problem of turning a good book into a good movie by altering the book enough to leave behind its literary merits and transform them into cinematic ones. So he recreated the book’s mood by inventing events Ondaatje didn’t need to write about.
— Barbara Shulgasser, The San Francisco Examiner
"Backward into memory, forward into loss and desire, The English Patient searches for answers that will answer nothing. This poetic, evocative film version of the famous novel by Michael Ondaatje circles down through layers of mystery until all of the puzzles in the story have been solved, and only the great wound of a doomed love remains. It is the kind of movie you can see twice—first for the questions, the second time for the answers.
"Ondaatje’s novel has become one of the most widely-read and loved of recent years. Some of its readers may be disappointed that more is not made of Kip [Sikh officer character]; the love between the Sikh and the nurse could provide a balance to the doomed loves elsewhere. But the novel is so labyrinthine that it’s a miracle it was filmed at all, and the writer-director, Anthony Minghella, has done a creative job of finding visual ways to show how the rich language slowly unveils layers of the past.
"Producers are not always creative contributors to films, but the producer of The English Patient, Saul Zaentz, is in a class by himself. Working independently, he buys important literary properties (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, At Play in the Fields of the Lord) and savors their difficulties. Here he has created with Minghella a film that does what a great novel can do: Hold your attention the first time through with its story, and then force you to think back through everything you thought you’d learned, after it is revealed what the story is "really" about.
— Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times
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