OF MICE AND MEN
Director: Anna D. Shapiro
Writer: John Steinbeck
Runtime: 145 mins
Australian release date: 24 January 2015
Previewed at: Chauvel Cinema, Paddington, Sydney, on 13 January 2105.
Filmed during the last performance at New York’s Longacre Theatre, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men is, quite simply, stunning.
Anna D. Shapiro (who's also credited for the Broadway theatrical production of August: Osage County) is interviewed during the interval and maintains that the play represents the loss of the American Dream, a loss that was faced by many migrant workers in California during the Depression era of the 1930s. It also reveals the relationship between two men who are disparate in every way and yet form a bond that is closer than many brothers. Steinbeck’s tale, superbly directed by Shapiro, mangles their hearts and enters their souls and does a damn fine job of passing the experience on to the audience as well.
James Franco plays George Milton, an intelligent but uneducated man, who's taken on the responsibility of looking after Lennie Small (Chris O’Dowd), a mentally-challenged, gentle giant with a desire to stroke soft surfaces, who hangs on George’s every word but doesn’t realise his own strength. They are 'bindle-stiffs' - men who carry their possessions wrapped in a cloth and roam from menial job to menial job, trying to eke out a living. When we first meet them, the mates are due to arrive at a farm where they have permits to work but are forced to spend the night out in the open after they're dumped off their bus at the wrong stop. As they settle down to sleep we learn about their situation and their dream of owning their own spread. Once at the property, the other workers question their relationship as most men in those circumstances ‘do it alone,’ with no familial or friendship bonds. The men on the farm are a varied lot. Most seem to carry a chip on their shoulder but they include gentle souls like the mule-skinner Slim (Jim Parrack) and the old-timer Candy (Jim Norton), who represents the end of the working line. The sole female role is the wife (Leighton Meester) of Curley, the farm manager's son (Alex Morf). This unfortunate woman is seen as a “slut” but is really just a lonely, desperate creature seeking company, desperate to talk to anyone. Indeed, loneliness is a recurrent theme in this work.
In all cases the performances are spot-on: O’Dowd plays his role with utter conviction and his ham-fisted stroking of tiny animals is unnerving to watch; Franco is powerful and uncanny and the atmosphere the pair create together is fraught with tension. Steinbeck wrote Of Mice And Men in 1937 when this bleak period in American history was coming to an end. He'd lived through the Depression and his novella is considered one of the most powerful stories to cover that era. In this revival piece by Britain’s National Theatre, Franco and O’Dowd bring to life a work which still has the capacity to make its audience feel utterly helpless as they witness a tragedy in which men have to confront the fact that their dream - one that most Americans yearned for then and still do - is impossible. The dice are stacked against them. In fact the play can be seen as a metaphor for life itself, wherein the struggle to survive and achieve one's goals can often be completely overwhelming. Don't miss it, Of Mice And Men is one of the best theatrical productions you'll see all year.