Most of you are probably familiar with the plot from when this book was forced upon you in high school; George and Lenny are wandering laborers in the 20s/30s. George is a pretty sharp guy, but Lenny is mentally handicapped; a giant of a man, he is a phenomenal worker, but his mental and emotional shortcomings continually land the two men in hot water. When they end up at a particular ranch in Salinas, the men encounter trouble that no amount of running away will solve.
Steinbeck's book is particularly depressing (as I find the works of many early 20th century American authors to be), and the movie captures that exceptionally, without making it a depressing experience to view. Steinbeck's themes of loneliness, of the harshness of life, of how unfair things can be, are all carried over into the film adroitly; but Sinise manages to capture the beautiful California landscape, and in particular that golden sunlight, to at least add a veneer of beauty to the disheartening proceedings.
The acting is uniformly excellent here. Sinise's George is world-weary, cautious, and protective of Lenny; he understands his burden fully and as in the book curses his relationship with Lenny even while we know it is an obligation he will never willingly forsake. The bit parts are all fine as well, with Sherilyn Fenn playing Curley's Wife to perfection; Ray Walston is wonderfully low-key as the lonely, used-up Candy; and Joe Morton as Crook only gets one scene, but he runs the gamut from anger to fear to camaraderie and loneliness, shifting effortlessly in the space of a few minutes. But really, even with all the fine performances, the movie is Malkovitch's. I've never been a huge fan of his work, but he is perfect here as Lenny; he captures the man's childlike worldview, his instant joy in small things, his fear of being stranded by George, and even Lenny's anger just perfectly. Watching Malkovich in this movie is watching a master at the top of his craft; Lenny instantly catches the viewer's sympathy, and Malkovich makes it obvious why George is both irritated by and yet loves the big lunk.
The last scene (I won't spoil it, in case you have forgotten or never read it) is one of the classics of cinema, I feel. The emotion is so powerful, yet so subtly played by both actors; you know what must happen, what George must do, and yet, even as he steels himself to the task, we can see how difficult it is for him. At one point Senise bows his head, eyes screwed shut, on Malkovich's shoulder; this small gesture speaks volumes about the bond between the two men, about everything that Steinbeck was trying to say about love and friendship, and loneliness. It sums up the whole book, the whole film, in an instant. Simply put, this is a brilliant adaptation, well worth your time to investigate.
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