Nine Weeks of Kubrick, Week Six – Andy Burns on Barry Lyndon
Six weeks in to our look at the brilliant films found in the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection of blu-rays and what I expected has finally occurred – I’ve hit a movie that really just hasn’t moved me, and it’s exactly the one that I thought it would be. As I tried to make my way through Barry Lyndon for the first time, I stopped and started the film multiple times over the weekend. On that note, here are my thoughts on the Kubrick movie that Martin Scorsese has sited as his favourite from the legendary director:
What the film is about: Released in 1975 and adapted by Kubrick from the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, Barry Lyndon is an extremely slow-moving 18th century period piece about the life and adventures of Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), a rogue who maneuvers his way into high society from his lowly beginnings through thieving, gambling and seduction.
What I liked about Barry Lyndon: As someone who is not a real fan of period pieces, I did find much to appreciate about Barry Lyndon. It should come as absolutely no surprise that the film is gorgeous to look at, especially on Blu-Ray. The Irish scenery is alive and beautiful, and Kubrick makes sure we take it all in with his gratuitous use of long shots throughout the three hour running time. Worth noting is the natural candlelight often used to light many of the indoor scenes – it’s unique and gives a sense of intimacy where utilized. There’s a reason why the picture won Oscars for Art Direction and Cinematgraphy.
Ryan O’Neal delivers a strong performance as the title character; he’s a strong leading man, and does the most with the role. Aside from the scenery, he’s the reason to watch Barry Lyndon. However, as good as O’Neal is, he doesn’t have the presence that Malcolm McDowell showed in Kubrick’s previous film, A Clockwork Orange, or that which Jack Nicholson has on display in The Shining, the movie that would be Kubrick’s follow-up to Barry Lyndon.
What I didn’t like about the film: First off, Barry Lyndon is three hours and it is simply way too long. I’d suggest a half hour could have been cut out to give it a little bit more flow. As it stands, to me the film really drags for almost its entirety, regardless of how nice it is too look at. When it comes to performances, while there are no poor ones to speak of, there are none that stand out other than Ryan O’Neal’s. Names and faces come and go and you really don’t remember any of them other than Barry himself.
As for O’Neal’s Lyndon, the truth is, he’s not a likable lead character, which means you don’t ever really care for him or his circumstances. This really came to light for me when I first started watching the film, with the Queen was sitting beside me. You see, she really enjoys the period films so I thought she’d like watching Barry Lyndon. However, after about a half-hour she tapped out because of how unappealing the character is. He’s rarely sympathetic or even slightly relatable. Imagine watching that for three hours, and you’ll start to see how I felt.
Should you watch Barry Lyndon: If you like period dramas, I think you’ll likely find much to admire about the movie. That is, if you can make your way through three hours of it. No matter how beautiful a film is, you’ve got to have characters to keep you engrossed in it, and that’s where Barry Lyndon is lacking. Having watched so much of Kubrick’s work over the last few weeks, I can safely say that there’s something to admire about all of his movies, but in the case of Barry Lyndon, it is the first Kubrick film that I can’t out and out recommend to you.
Check out the previous five weeks of Kubrick: