Old-fashioned” is the word for “Far and Away,” a timeworn tale of 19 th-century immigrants making their way in the New World. Handsomely mounted and amiably performed but leisurely and without much dramatic urgency, Ron Howard’s robust epic stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as class-crossed lovers who take nearly the entire picture to get together. Cruise’s name and Howard’s commercial rep point to a healthy but probably not boffo B.O. life.
The closing-night attraction at Cannes, pic is notable as the first narrative , non-effects-oriented Hollywood feature in more than two decades to have been shot on 65mm stock (with Panavision’s new Super 70 equipment) and released in 70 mm. As created by Mikael Salomon, images have a wonderful crispness and luminosity that make the effort worthwhile.
If it’s true, as reported, that Kodak’s new 65mm film allows for shooting at much lower light levels than was previously the case, perhaps audiences can look forward to more such treats on big pix in the near future.
Buffs will note that the new process — at least as used here — boasts a normal Panavision aspect ratio, one not as wide as the similarly named Super Panavision 70 process of the 1960s.
Long-in-gestation story by screenwriter Bob Dolman and Howard is a standard-issue tale of a lower-class lad who gets involved with the feisty daughter of a wealthy landowner. Dozens of fights, confrontations and misunderstandings, thousands of miles and nearly 2 1/2 hours later, the two headstrong youngsters give in to the inevitable physical impulses obvious to everyone else from the beginning.
So much for surprises in the story. This script would have perfectly suited Tyrone Power or Errol Flynn in the 1930s. With just a few mildly salacious adjustments to suit modern sensibilities, Cruise ably picks up the reins as a tenant farmer in western Ireland, circa 1892, who wants to kill his absentee landlord for torching the family home and, in effect, murdering his father.
Exemplifying script’s notions of both manifest and spiritual destiny, Pa gives son Joseph (Cruise) an inspirational deathbed speech about the connection of one’s soul to one’s land, and how Joseph ought to go to America. First, however, son means to do in the landlord (Robert Prosky), who, when met, turns out to be a nice chap who feels as victimized, in his way, as Joseph.
In fact, just about every character here insists he or she is oppressed. Prosky’s pampered, spirited daughter Shannon (Nicole Kidman) is kept on the tightest of leashes by her mother (Barbara Babcock) and is constantly badgered by her darkly handsome suitor (Thomas Gibson). Latter challenges the uppity Joseph to a duel, but, saved by the fog at dawn, Joseph makes off with Shannon for the States, disagreeably consenting to work as her servant shipboard.
Arriving in Boston (actually streets of Dublin nicely redressed) at the 45 -minute point, the couple is instantly thrown in with the hordes of immigrant riffraff when Shannon’s silver is stolen. Sharing a room at a brothel, the two must fend for themselves. While Shannon toils plucking chickens, Joseph, in pic’s most engaging scenes, makes a name for himself as a scrappy bare-knuckles boxer, taking on all comers and becoming a favorite of the local tarts, much to Shannon’s consternation.
However, the land still beckons, and by the next year all the characters (the Christies, as well as Joseph, have also come to America) find themselves in the epochal Oklahoma land rush, racing thousands of others in covered wagons and on horseback to stake out 160 acres of free soil.
All chords struck by Howard and Dolman are of the familiar homespun variety. While fine and dandy for mainstream audiences seeking a comforting good time, it also makes for a picture with no edge.
A little irreverence and some revisionist strokes would have lent some welcome spice to this bland meat-and-potatoes serving of U.S. history.
Some of the detail results in needless dawdling. Joseph’s sentimental dreaming of Shannon and the couple’s let’s-pretend-we’re-rich interlude in a Boston mansion are embarrassing, and the lull before the big land rush is padding.
Most of the film’s pleasures are purely physical. Seeing western Ireland, especially on the big screen, is always inspiring (ironically, one of the last true 70mm productions was the similarly set “Ryan’s Daughter”), and Montana, standing in for Oklahoma, is also pretty easy on the eyes.
Irish production designer Allan Cameron has created a vivid, instantly interesting portrait of late-19th-century Boston slums, and Joanna Johnston’s costume designs are also notable.
Cruise’s physicality is forcibly in evidence, which will not be unwelcome to his many fans. Stripped down frequently, he is genuinely impressive in the fisticuffs action of pic’s midsection. His horseback riding (it’s obviously Cruise) is also thrilling in the monumentally staged land race, the likes of which hasn’t been seen on-screen for some time. Cruise’s Irish accent is quite acceptable, to the point where one stops really noticing it.
Heavily garbed, unlike her husband and co-star, Kidman has the requisite grit and defiant spirit in her eyes, and capably holds her own as the upper-class girl who passes her tests of character with flying colors. As the one-dimensional villain, Gibson dashingly reminds of Timothy Dalton, while Prosky is a kick as the resilient landowner. Michelle Johnson has a few nice moments as a busty dancer who takes a shine to Joseph at the height of his boxing fame.
In a dream job for a cinematographer, Salomon fashions a world of great color , loveliness and physical grandeur, although his favoring of soft backgrounds indicates that the full sharpness of the new 70mm equipment has yet to be displayed. Also effective is John Williams’ fully supportive but not at all overwhelming score.