Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck's beloved novella (adapted for the screen by renowned playwright Horton Foote, Trip To Bountiful, Convicts) comes to the screen under the direction of actor/director Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump), and brought vividly to life by John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich) as Lennie, Ray Walston (Kiss Me, Stupid) as Candy, Joe Morton (Speed) as Crooks, Casey Siemaszko (Back To The Future) as Curly, and Sherilyn Fenn (Fatal Instinct) as Curly's sultry wife.
John Steinbeck is one of the great writers of the 20th Century and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. His work left an imprint on pop culture that still resonates today. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Grapes of Wrath," the final book in his Dustbowl Trilogy, not only was turned into a film that led to a famous speech given by Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, but it has inspired numerous musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, and Mumford and Sons.
The second book in the trilogy is Steinbeck's classic 1937 novella, "Of Mice and Men." I first saw a characterization of Lennie in Looney Tunes cartoons before I ever read the book, but I eventually read it in school and saw it performed as a play and at no time does the story's tragic ending ever get any less heartbreaking. Gary Sinise's 1992 film version, in which he stars as George and directs, is no different.
Set in Northern California during the Depression, 'Of Mice and Men' tells a complicated tale about what a person is willing to do to protect a loved one in their care. George is riding in a darkened train car, obviously having hitched a ride for free. He thinks back to a woman in a torn red dress running across a field. Soon after, George and Lennie (John Malkovich) are on the run, chased by a group of men with hounds.
In Soledad, they find work on the Tyler Ranch. On their way, the viewer learns a lot about the men. Lennie, who is mentally disabled, carries a dead mouse because he's unaware of his strength and petted the creature too hard. While preparing a can of beans for dinner, Lennie wants ketchup. George vents his frustration out about having to care for Lenny, who offers to leave. Later, Lennie asks George to tell the story of their future, about having a farm together where Lennie will tend the rabbits.
Once at the ranch, they meet the Boss' (Noble Willingham) son Curley (Casey Siemaszko), a short angry guy who has an issue with Lennie it seems solely because he is a big, strong guy. Later, Curley’s wife (Sherilyn Fenn) comes into the bunkhouse looking for her husband. George warns Lennie to stay away from both of them, and Lennie says, “I don’t like this place.” How right he was.
What's interesting about knowing the story is seeing how moments of foreshadowing appear. Candy (Ray Walston) is an old, injured ranch hand. He has a beloved dog that is in worse shape than he is. Candy is talked into having the dog killed to put it out of its misery. It's a good scene that Sinise allows to linger before a shot rings out in the distance. As George watches Candy, the moment clearly has an effect on him. Later, still feeling guilty, Candy tells George that was his responsibility and he should have been the one to end his dog's life. Unfortunately, fate places George in a position to take on a similar responsibility, and it's handled in manner that is believable and necessary, yet ultimately heart-breaking.
Sinise and Malkovich had acted together in the play version of 'Of Mice and Men' so they had a great understanding of the characters and how to interact with one another, which came through effortlessly in their performances. Sinise assembled a very talented cast, including John Terry as Slim and Joe Morton as Crooks, and allowed them to shine. His directorial style didn’t draw attention to itself. He made choices that allowed the audience to best opportunity to see what was happening. The film is so good it made me want to reread the novella.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Olive Films presents 'Of Mice and Men’' on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. The colors come through in strong, natural hues. The green and browns of the countryside are rich hues, and the red of a woman's dress is vibrant. Blacks are rich.
Some scenes offer good shadow delineation such as the opening sequence of George riding in a dark train car with sporadic spots of light beaming through. Other times, the darkness can swallow objects.
Film grain is natural. Skin tones are warm, almost leaning red, but with all the work the men do in the sun, that might be on purpose. There is a very good sense of depth on hand and clothing exhibits texture detail. There are slight specks of white and black that appear. At 1:34, there an instance of image jitter
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. Mark Isham's score fills the speakers when the film opens and the instruments have good clarity. A train rumbles with bass and the crossing bell can be heard passing across channels to give a sense of movement. The engine whistle can be in the right speaker, revealing the front of the train.
The dialogue is understandable throughout and the elements are mixed together in a pleasing manner. The track has infrequent moments of loudness, train sounds that bookend the film and a few scenes of characters shouting, so while all the sounds come through clearly, it gives the appearance of a dynamic range more limited than it is.
Gary Sinise and his team do justice to 'Of Mice and Men' with this adaptation. It reminds people why this classic tale is important to revisit and why its themes are timeless. That alone is why I highly recommend it. That Olive Films has done a good job with the HD presentation and thankfully included the informative extras from the 2003 DVD release is a welcome bonus.