Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
Titanic (1997): Written and directed by James Cameron. Starring: Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, and Gloria Stuart. Rated PG-13 for disaster-related peril and violence, sensuality, nudity, and brief language. Running time: 194 minutes.
What’s next after a sweeping romance? How about the sweeping romance that broke every box-office record imaginable? James Cameron did just that with his ambitious historical melodrama, tying Ben-Hur for the most Academy Award wins.
As with The English Patient, most of the story is told in flashback. Rose, a survivor of the wreck from 1912, recalls her memories of a whirlwind romance in the days before the disaster. Feeling imprisoned by her betrothal to a wealthy nincompoop, she strikes up a romance with a dashing young artist named Jack Dawson, even as tragedy awaits them.
While it may have had an impossibly long theatrical run, it’s easy to see why the three-hour-plus epic has engendered criticism over the years. It still boasts impressive special effects, but flounders in caricature and incredibly silly plotting. A script that contains the line “It was the most erotic moment of my life” probably isn’t going to win any awards for screenwriting. Yet the film still largely succeeds thanks to Cameron’s direction and the two central performances.
Cameron uses his editor as well as his special-effects wizards to heighten the drama of the sinking ship, and knows how to manage crowds to convey a sense of scale. And despite the film’s cheap plot contrivances or its ridiculous portrayal of bourgeoisie complacency, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio firmly anchor the emotional center. The two have undeniable chemistry, even as DiCaprio’s character falls into the perfect man archetype. (He’s an artist! He goes where the wind blows! He always knows just what to say!). The duo even manages to sell a corny dance sequence (as well as the infamous nude drawing scene).
One has to stand back and marvel at the sheer scope of a project like this one. Titanic could have sunk entirely, but there’s too much talent here to overlook. I admire it even while I revel in its silliness.
Next film: Shakespeare in Love, 1998