I wasn’t aware of how often Leonard Maltin described a movie as overlong until Doug Benson started pulling quotes from Maltin’s reviews as hints in the Leonard Maltin Game, but it does seem that he lodges that complaint pretty regularly. Length generally isn’t one of my main concerns – I tend to subscribe more to the Ebert theory that “no good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short”. But the Great Beauty is a great movie that would be greater if it wasn’t so overlong.
There’s a lot in the Great Beauty that’s wonderfully done. The casting is perfect; the main character – a world weary journalist who is celebrating his 65th birthday – is played by Toni Servillo, who has a face that can transform from a tragedy mask to a comedy mask on a dime. I don’t know anything about Servillo, but he seems to have as many laugh lines as worry lines on his weathered mug, which is ideal for embodying a man who has been the life of the party a few times too many.
The cinematography is also stunning, giving the viewer a real sense of the beauty of Rome and also of the utter tackiness of a lot of it’s denizens. The visual compositions also embody the themes of the movie extraordinarily well, suggesting the beauty of history and the weight of the present in every painterly frame.
But there just isn’t enough of a story here to justify a running time that’s well over two hours long. The bursts of gallows humor keep from being too dull for too long, and I understand that all the interludes that show snapshots of life in Rome add texture to the film and fill out the world, but they also don’t go anywhere. At a certain point the vignettes – while individually beautiful – become a bit redundant and sap the film of it’s focus. If they sawed off ten or fifteen minutes of ambiance, they would still have a very moody and meditative movie, but one that I enjoyed much more.
Winner: Me (mostly)