MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Historical Drama/ Stars: Peter O’ Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, José Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit, I. S. Johar, Gamil Ratib, Michel Ray, John Dimech, Zia Mohyeddin, Howard Marion-Crawford, Jack Gwillim, Hugh Miller/ Runtime: 226 minutes
I feel it is safe to say that if you choose to look back and write a review on a movie in the vein as Lawrence of Arabia and utilize anything other than some degree of on-point critique really does seem futile in nature. This is because not only has this film had mountains of praise put on its shoulders, but because it is amongst a distinct class of movies that not only can be bestowed with all the praise in the world, but also live it up to the acclaim and hold up remarkably well no matter how much time has passed. Indeed rightly seen as one of the best films ever made to say nothing of a film whose timeless legacy is one as a true representative of just how powerful movie making can be as well as the potency of spot-on crafting and engaging narrative, this is a film which is often seen as a poster for landmark movies, but also is the epic to end all epics, and a movie that remains the quintessential answer to just why we make films and how film can still be taken seriously as a medium of art. Above all though this is a film that manages to show the very best of film even though it is nearly double the normal runtime of 98% movies out there to say nothing of the fact that it is one which is part of the upper echelon of films where one can also find Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, and at least the 4th and 5th Star Wars films residing. Yet this film may lack the right off the bat name recognition, the pop-culture awareness, a cast that is immediately familiar, and their flash and style, but it is most definitely nevertheless a movie that everyone from the everyday viewer to reviewers like myself should come to when looking for a film that is a true representation of what happens when pathos, action beats, performances, narrative, and all the other technical ingredients come together to make a truly iconic slice of cinematic pie or in the case of this movie a true legend.
The plot is as follows: Lawrence of Arabia takes us back to that long ago time that is the pinnacle of combat during the First World War and introduces to a British Lieutenant who goes by the name of T.E. Lawrence and who might just be the most puzzling man in the British military. Indeed here is a man who could best be described as both a tenacious yet also precise hard worker, but also a man who, among other attributes, has a distinct sense of humor, is well-educated, is top-marks when it comes to the culture of the Arabic people and who has just been given an assignment that could potentially win him accolades with both the public and the military in equal measure. This assignment involves our intrepid hero going out and assessing the progress of the Arab revolt against the powerful army being led by the Turks. However whilst meeting with Prince Faisal, Lawrence not only manages to impress him with his integrity, his brilliance, and respect and appreciation for the Arabs and their culture, but he also instead presents him with a risky and quite perilous raid on a crucial stronghold of the Turks known as Akaba. Indeed to capture this, according to Lawrence, would result in victories beyond just that of a physical nature. Thus as Lawrence works to prove he is a friend and ally to the Arabs, he finds himself working his way into their hearts and souls and transforms himself not only into a hero and savior to this distinct group of people, but also soon comes to see the weight that his successes on and off the battlefield can potentially have and it isn’t long before he finds that there is, in addition to that weight, a cost to be found as well, and it’s about that time for him to start paying for it…
Now I feel it should be said that Lawrence of Arabia is an inner analysis of a man set against an external backdrop that is epic in nature. More than that however, this is a movie which constructs a quite personal saga and projects it on as large of a scale as possible through sandy desert, horrific combat, and through the main character’s mind and soul alike. Indeed film helmer David Lean manages to pull off the impossible with this film by giving us truly majestic character growth and development over a canvas that is truly vast and larger than life to such an extent that this version of the tale of T.E. Lawrence is one of the most intimate yet powerfully conveyed ever cinematically brought to life. Yet Lawrence himself is quite the intriguing man to focus a movie on since he is a guy of manners and class, but remarkably intelligent to say nothing of his strong sense of conviction, but also being susceptible to wild moments from an emotional perspective. Be that as it may be though Lawrence’s story is one which is truly timeless and deeply introspective. Indeed it really speaks to the individual in question when they are able to truly thrive and prosper when surrounded by a culture completely different form his own, but at the same time this is also what makes this film a a unique and quite intriguing character analysis even if there are moments where the rest of the film manages to overpower and obscure said analysis.
Indeed this is a film which manages to be a jaw-dropping spectacle in all the best ways. By that I mean this is a film which is truly majestic in every given inch of the cinematography, each chord in the truly iconic score, and every single minute of film helmer Lean’s top-notch work be it the action beats all the way to hovering far-off shots of desert and characters being slowly revealed as they come from the horizon itself. Indeed this is film that is both magnificent in its scope and how it displays the geographic majesty of the Middle East. Indeed not only does every single minute lead to a feeling of awe quite unlike any other film out there, but the movie also gives us a truly incredible journey where we join our main character across unforgiving deserts, in the heat of combat, and follow his distinct arc with him be he dressed in fatigues or in Arab attire and be it on top of the world or ruthlessly decimated by internal anarchy. Even better is the fact that the helmsmanship by Lean and the work in the cinematography department by Freddie Young manage to potently showcase how expansive the desert is, how perilous Lawrence’s journey is, how hot it manages to be, and the perils of combat among other things with extraordinary accuracy. I mean I can think of few other films which are as realistic as this one and not due to any special effects or style choices, but due to wonderful photography, terrific source material to work from, a top-flight cast, and a majesty and wonder all its own which has resulted in a film that will never ever be one which can be improved on in any way and should never ever be thought of when it comes to remaking or duplicating for that would truly be impossible.
Of course, I should also point out that a proper analysis of this film would be doing a great disservice to you, the reader if it didn’t mention in any way the contributions done towards the final product of the cast. With that being said you should know that marvelous is too low of praise for these thespians and what they manage to achieve and instead I will say that every single one of them manage to instantly become their characters from the main roles down to those in the background. Yes without a doubt, the performances do owe a decent amount of credit to the other ingredients for helping give them such a riveting stage to perform on, but they are still all in all another key ingredient to why this film is true cinematic perfection. Indeed as the title character, Peter O’Toole is a true tour de force and manages to completely become the part from the most crucial ingredients all the way down to the tiniest mannerisms possible. Indeed he manages to portray this iconic figure perfectly throughout no matter how he is dressed or what he is doing to the point that it really truly is one of the most iconic turns in all of cinematic history. As for the supporting cast they are all equally as wonderful. Yes none of them manage to get the lightning in the bottle style career jump as O’Toole did, but they all still manage to really bring to their respective parts the same kind of flawless skill that is almost required of a film of this magnitude and all do their absolute best in making this not just an excellent film now and always, but a true work of art plain and simple.
All in all it should come as no surprise to learn that when looking at film as an art form, it really truly at the end of the day simply does not get any finer than Lawrence of Arabia. Indeed not only is this a poster child example of an epic and a masterpiece if one could be found, but it also a cinema lover’s go-to film and a movie that also is a showcase for the power that this medium can have when properly utilized. Indeed this is also a movie which has some of the finest helming and cinematography work ever accomplished to say nothing of its iconic score and powerful performances. Above all though Lawrence of Arabia is a truly unforgettable viewing experience that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible so not only does the immense desert landscape floor you, but so the sheer scope of the narrative can rock you to your core and so much more. On a scale of 1-5 I give Lawrence of Arabia a solid 5 out of 5.