Sunday, February 26, 2006


1982, UK, directed by Richard Attenborough

Gandhi is a respectful but unadventurous bit of historical filmmaking, which nonetheless created quite a stir when it was first released. Today it's perhaps most enjoyable for its outstanding central performance, a star-making turn by Ben Kingsley. It's still hard to credit how inexperienced he was when Gandhi went into production (while the film may be lacking as historical commentary, there's no faulting the scale of the enterprise). The real flaw here is how schematic the life of Gandhi becomes in the hands of a stolid director like Richard Attenborough. We lurch from incident to incident with little of the imaginative input a more creative director might have employed. There's an unavoidable element of repetition, too, since the political activism of Gandhi's South African years is reiterated, in more resonant fashion, after his return to India. That said, the film does become more involving as the minutes tick by, mostly by virtue of India's fascinating and tumultuous history. The highly credible transformation of Kingsley from vigorous young lawyer to frail elder statesman helps hugely, while fans of British or Indian actors will have a field day name-checking the supporting cast.

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