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I really wanted to like GIANT, especially coming off the heels of EAST OF EDEN (1955), but it was a slog to get through for me and embodied most of the elements that turn me off to films of that time period. I know that is blasphemous, especially considering that the film is considered a masterpiece by most, but the heart wants what the heart wants.
A sprawling epic based on the best-selling novel by Edna Ferber, GIANT is the story of wealthy Texas rancher Jordan “Bick” Benedict (Rock Hudson) and the plight of the Benedict family over the decades. Starting in the early 1920’s, Jordan falls in love with Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor) while purchasing a prize horse from her father in Maryland.
He takes her back to his half a million-acre ranch in Texas where they are married and start a family. Adding drama to their marriage is ranch hand Jett Rink (James Dean). He’s uneducated and dirt-poor and resents Jordan as much as Jordan does him. But Leslie persuades him to keep Jett around.
When Jordan’s sister dies suddenly, Jett’s fortunes change as she has left him a small piece of ranch property. Determined to make something of it, Jett discovers oil on his portion and soon becomes a multi-millionaire. This only causes more strain to the already tenuous relationships culminating many years later when both men learn the true price of their arrogance.
It’s a handsomely made movie and I can certainly see why it is much beloved, but it didn’t resonate with me. I found it overly melodramatic and emotionally distant. I know it’s the acting style of the time but it’s the same reason why GONE WITH THE WIND doesn’t work for me. I like realism and grit in my drama and this had a layer of sentimentality that I could not relate to.
What’s ironic is that it deals with so many hot button issues that are still relevant today, such as racism and classism but once again I never got to the emotional truth of these and that was disappointing.
I was also a little disappointed by James Dean who was absolutely mesmerizing in EAST OF EDEN. It’s not that he’s bad by any stretch of the imagination; he just didn’t engage me in GIANT as he did in the other.
I almost feel guilty giving GIANT a rating any less than 5 Reels because I can recognize the filmmaking skill involved on all levels, but at the end of the day it didn’t connect with me and that’s the whole point of these reviews.
Take my rating with a grain of salt, because as a classic of the cinema GIANT is a MUST SEE MOVIE and I’m glad I finally saw it. I just expected more.