14 July 2000 | jhclues
A Triumph For Steve McQueen
Executive Producer and star Steve McQueen and director George Schaefer bring Henrik Ibsen's `An Enemy of the People' to the screen, giving life and imagery to the powerful words of this Master playwright. First performed on stage in Oslo in the 1880's, the story is every bit as pertinent today as it was when it was written, for the themes of right and wrong, principle and ideal, democracy and commitment are timeless. What must a man do when he knows he is right? How far should he be willing to go, how much sacrifice should be made in the name of the truth? Ibsen contends that there can be no shades of gray when it comes to such matters, that truth is nothing less than absolute, and must be maintained as such; honesty cannot be found in acquiescence to the solid majority. As Doctor Thomas Stockman, McQueen is the embodiment of morality; the good and the just, the voice of reason and truth crying out amid a wilderness of complacency, corruption and complicity, the individual against the masses. It's the strength of the pure against the desperate agenda of the moderates who would conspire and compromise away all that is holy for the sake of self-aggrandizement. This is a stirring and emotional story that exposes the heart of darkness which unfortunately dwells within the human spirit; but in doing so, it also serves to illuminate the magnanimity of that same spirit, as well. The construction is done with precision and the message is unequivocal; simply put, it is a masterful study of the human condition.
Ironically, the fate of this movie was ultimately decided by circumstances not unlike those within the story itself. Never released, still unavailable on video and very rarely shown on television (even cable, which seems quite inexplicable), the Powers that Be decided that this was not the Steve McQueen (heavier, with long hair and full beard) the public wanted to see; what `they' wanted (they contend) was a McQueen `with a gun in his hand,' and plenty of action. They decreed that a meaningful drama starring an action hero was somehow taboo. And that reasoning must be regarded now as nothing less than criminal. Because Steve McQueen is brilliant in this role; there is a depth and heart to his Stockman that wrings every bit of strength and truth out of Ibsen's words. Anyone who is lucky enough to have seen this film would agree, I believe, that its unavailability in not only unbelievable, but unforgivable. The wonderful Bibi Andersson also gives an exceptional performance here as Catherine Stockman, a part for which she could easily (and should) have received an Oscar nomination. The supporting cast includes Charles Durning (Peter Stockman), Richard Dysart (Aslaksen), Michael Cristofer (Hovstad), Michael Higgins (Billing), Eric Christmas (Morten), Robin Pearson Rose (Petra) and Richard Bradford (Captain Forster). `An Enemy of the People' is an excellent rendering of a timeless classic by one of the world's master dramatists; the movie itself is a classic in its own right. It took courage for McQueen to venture into this territory, but the result is indeed his triumph; this film deserves to be seen, and hopefully, through the magic of video, some day it will be. I rate this one 10/10.