Sunday, January 16, 2011

Awakenings (Penny Marshall)

Veterans Robert De Niro and Robin Williams in "Awakenings".

Film Review Archive (date seen: November 24, 2010)

There's always a recurring belief in Hollywood among actors that once you played an impaired character on film, then one can already consider him/herself "made". Honestly, that's what I initially thought of "Awakenings", a sentimental film that will do nothing but to put one of the missing pieces of De Niro's more than impressive resume' into place; oh, how wrong I was.

Though his performance was great, it was his sense of belonging among the other encephalitis-stricken characters that made the portrayal so absorbing. To a more flamboyant performer, he could have easily stole every single scene with some scenery-chewing moments. But De Niro, having to do justice to such a critical character, has carried himself with methodical devotion as Leonard Lowe. Going into great lengths to show the physical sufferings of an encephalitis victim, but also hinting, with subtle motions and glances, the depths of the characters' heart and the reaches of his mind that was enclosed inside a physical limbo for 30 years.

But the best performance came from Robin Williams (though not nominated for an Academy Award) as the socially awkward Dr. Sayer, whose characterization started in the middle but ended on something to begin with. My tears, tested by the span of years I've been watching films, are quite adamant to sentimental displays on screen. But this one, since "Letters from Iwo Jima", I think, finally persuaded them to just trickle down in peace. Although based on a true story, I will always think of the film's "awakenings" as a symbolic series of inner defiance, brought forth by the indomitable power of the human spirit struggling against the shackles of physical invalidity.


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