23 January 2005 | FilmOtaku
A beautiful, sweeping epic
George Stevens' 1956 epic "Giant" is the story of the Jordan Benedict (Rock Hudson), the male heir to one of the largest cattle ranching families in Texas. At the start of the film, we see Jordan traveling to Maryland to look at a horse he is interested in purchasing, There he meets Leslie, (Elizabeth Taylor) the daughter of the man he is purchasing the horse from (and the unofficial "owner" of the horse) and immediately falls in love with her. The feeling is mutual, so after an incredibly brief (two day) courtship, they marry and he brings her back to his ranch in Texas, Reatta. At first, life on the ranch is tough, particularly while dealing with Jordan's overprotective, no-nonsense sister Luz. (Mercedes McCambridge) Leslie soon adjusts, however, and the two of them start a family. Meanwhile, Jordan is at constant odds with one of his ranch hands, Jet Rink (James Dean) whom he always wants to fire, but is eternally protected by Luz. When Luz unexpectedly dies, Jet is ready to walk off the ranch for good, but discovers that Luz has bequeathed a parcel of the land to him. Partly to tick Jordan off, partly for his respect for Luz and partly so that he can have something for himself, Jett eschews Jordan's cash buyout and instead sets up a homestead on the land. Five years later, Jet strikes oil, and soon he is again at odds with the Benedicts, as Jet, having become one of the richest men in Texas, wants to buy out Reatta, while Jordan wants to keep the ranch for cattle raising, and most importantly to keep it in the family. The next 15-20 years are spent raising their children and trying to cope with a changing family dynamic, one where the children may not want to adhere to the roles that have been pre-attributed to them, a struggle that is particularly hard for their son Jordan III (Dennis Hopper) because as the sole male heir, his dream of becoming a doctor is seemingly out of the question. "Giant" is about life, and the ever-changing role of the American family.
"Giant" is a very long film, (about three and a half hours) but this time frame is necessary because the story is so rich. Despite its running time, there are no pacing issues, and no real superfluous scenes. The cinematography is lush and rich (I never really thought Texas to be all that intriguing, but William C. Mellor's photography was exquisite. The performances by the principals were very good, particularly since they had to age 25 years in the film. This wasn't a mere makeup job, you could feel the aging in the way they carried themselves, and their facial expressions. James Dean in particular, perhaps because he had such a fascinating character, was stunning. Jet Rink is a complex character, and Dean really worked the role fantastically. I was also impressed, considering the overly idealistic Hollywood of the 1950's, that "Giant", while ending on a happy note, did not compromise its characters in any way to achieve its ending. Jordan for example, is typical old-guard Texas, and therefore looks down on Mexicans. When his son marries one, he has marginal acceptance and is always polite, but even after engaging in a fight to defend the honor of his grandson, he still expresses his woe that his grandson is who he is. Also, Leslie is an unabashed free-thinker who often challenges the Texas traditions, much to Jordan's chagrin. Throughout their years together however, she does not compromise her views and need to express them. I really liked this about the film, because it is rare for the time, particularly when the genre is melodrama.
I really liked this film, though when recommending it, have to caution because of the sheer length of the film. Watching "Giant" is an investment of time, but it is certainly a worthwhile investment. 7/10 --Shelly