It’s easy to make a biopic about heroic figures from history. The audience instantly loves the main character and wants to see all the great things they did throughout their life. But director John Frankenheimer chose the path least traveled when he decided to make a film about the infamous political figure, Alabama Governor George Wallace.
George Wallace is a man who came to fame with these words “Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow, Segregation forever!” But this isn’t simply a film about a political bigot. Frankenheimer presents a human side of Wallace and while he does do many deplorable things, we see that he wasn’t always like that and ultimately he comes to realize the error of his ways and seek redemption.
From fighting Martin Luther King, Jr. and attempting to keep African American kids out of white schools to standing by and watching his wife die from cancer and being shot five time and paralyzed because of it, this film gives a very thorough representation of this complex man. But it doesn’t make you like the man any more, not that that was its ultimate goal.
George Wallace is a great -looking film. Frankenheimer has a very dynamic cinematic eye and utilizes all his best tricks to make this made-for-TV movie look like a real theatrical film. All of Wallace’s speeches are shot in black and white and are often times cut with actual stock footage to give them a more realistic feel.
The acting across the board is fantastic. The leads, Gary Sinise, Mare Winningham and Angelina Jolie carry this epic film effortlessly, but the best performance comes from the subtly brilliant Clarence Williams III. Williams plays Archie, Wallace’s African American assistant, who has to stand by his side all through the years watching Wallace degrade his race. He has few lines and says so much with only his eyes. Sadly, it is admitted at the end of the film that the character of Archie was fabricated for the film and did not exist in real life.
The biggest problem with the film is that it didn’t really need to be three hours long. That is a long time to sit through unbridled racial bigotry just to arrive at his redemption at the end. The acting is strong enough to carry you through, but in the end you can’t help but ask yourself, “why?”
The film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and Dolby Digital Stereo. This is a decent looking film. It has some truly wonderful cinematography and the transfer delivers that well.
Vision And Conflict: Collaborating on the Wallace Saga: (20 min.) A good making of that talks a little about John Frankenheimer’s career then goes into the standard casting and what not that most making of’s have. There are great interviews with all the major players in the film in front of and behind the camera. It also serves as a nice memorial for the great director who died in 2002.
This is a fascinating character study of a very dark time in US history. It’s interesting to watch once, but I’m not sure who would want to watch it again. Consider renting it if you’re curious.
Warner Bros. presents George Wallace. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Written by Paul Monash and Marshall Frady. Based on the novel by Marshall Frady. Starring Gary Sinise, Angelina Jolie, Mare Winningham and Clarence Williams III. Running time: 185 minutes on two discs. Not Rated. Released on DVD: January 20, 2009. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: angelina jolie, gary sinise