Projections - Movie Reviews

Snow Falling on Cedars

Based on the novel by David Guterson, Snow Falling On Cedars plays much like a modern day soap opera.  While the use of the Pacific Northwest provide dramatic cinematic effect, this is another example of a book not translating well to the big screen.

The use of scenery and imagery over take what was a great story in print format.  Cinematographer Robert Richardson was given too much freedom and the story suffered.  His use of almost water color images are spectacular and the feel of the great forests are accurate; the characters play second.

The main thrust of the story is maintained by director Scott Hicks, but the pace is slowed as a result of the imagery.  Ethan Hawk plays Ishmael the wounded hero (both physically and emotionally) who is a fledgling reporter with an ax to bury; Youki Kudoh plays his forbidden childhood love as Hatsue while her husband is played by Rick Yune.  Max von Sydow cast as defense attorney Nels Gudmundsson provides not only a little comic relief, but is the only character who comes alive.  The character's mischievous grin and unquestionable dignity delivers the movies best line when the judge suggests he "act his age".  The reply of "If I did, your honor, I'd be dead" is just not enough to salvage this film.

Running time is not the same as page time in a novel and the exploration of these characters is drawn out and at times boring.  The topic of forced relocation of Japanese-Americans during World War II, while addressed, is masked in images and poor flow.  The trial sequence and the characters are a great read in the book but just do not come alive on the screen.  The feelings that remain with Ishmael for his former love, hatred of his father for what he stood for and his physical damage all add to his inability to defend Hatsue's husband in court for a murder he did not commit.  What is missing here is the gritty courtroom feel and the loathing of the population just after the end of World War II for anyone Japanese.  While you get an idea, you do not get the feel the book was able to provide.

There is an odd twist or two but when cinematography place above story and characters, one cannot expect greatness.  See the film for its grand statements of film style, not the story.

Snow Falling on Cedars

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