Friday, June 14, 2013

Great Expectations for Ethan Hawke

by Pa Rock
Film Fan

Ethan Hawke has been performing as an actor, both on stage and in film, for more than a quarter of a century, yet the veteran actor still looks like an adolescent who is contemplating a bit of mischief.  I am not an expert on his work, and have actually seen him in only a couple of movies – but those were poignant enough to convince me that he is an exceptional talent.

My first exposure to the still relatively young actor, when I was actually aware of who he was, occurred last winter when he did a walking analysis of Macbeth for the PBS series, Shakespeare Uncovered.  That appearance showed Hawke to be as comfortable walking the night streets of New York City as he was strolling through the actors during a serious rehearsal of one of the works of the Bard.  It was obvious that there was more to the actor than just a handsome face and the ability to memorize lines.

This week, while channel surfing, I came across an outstanding movie that showcased the talents of Mr. Hawke.  The 1998 film, Great Expectations, was based on the novel of Charles Dickens and starred Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow.   Having just reread the Dickens’ novel last fall for the first time in forty years or so, I had a strong desire to see how it played out on film.   With Hawke and Paltrow in the leads – along with some other huge names like Ann Bancroft, Robert De Niro, and Hank Azaria – I had a good amount of certainty that I was in for a treat – and I was not disappointed.

The 1998 version lifted the tale out of England in the 19th century and placed the characters in a small fishing town on the Florida Gulf Coast – in the late 20th century.   Hawke played the Pip character, named “Finn” for this adaptation, and Paltrow was the lifelong love who always remained just beyond his grasp.    Finn, as a young adult, fell under the patronage of a mysterious unknown who financed his life as a less-than-struggling artist in New York City. 

The story, with few exceptions, was so flawlessly adapted for the screen that it could have almost come straight from the pen of Charles Dickens.   It was faithful to the novel to the point that I suspect Dickens himself would have been pleased with the end product.

If Ethan Hawke immerses himself in all of his work the way he does with regard to the writings of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, he can expect to be a man of great expectations and an actor of consequence for years to come.

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