Movies like this are why I am a film critic; why after thirty years I still get excited about going to the movies; and why I can sit in awe and wonder at what I see on the screen. The film reminds me of what cinema can be, how it ennobles the world.
The BFG is a miracle of a movie.
Since his films began ruling the box office back in the seventies, Steven Spielberg has become arguably the greatest storyteller in film history. He grew as an artist to become one of the finest directors working in American cinema and has continued to grow through the course of his career. To me that is exciting, that a filmmaker of his staggering gifts could continue to grow, could continue to hone his gifts and admit to learning new things that help him evolve his art.
Spielberg’s greatest gift has always been his imagination and the ability to show us the impossible, to make us believe what is unbelievable. He has shown us (much before CGI) a killer shark, aliens from another world, an alien left behind befriending a child, dinosaurs, the future, and allowed us to meet Lincoln in what is a formidable career. Twice he has won the Academy Award for Best Director; he is the most nominated director in the history of the Directors Guild of America Awards, winning three times on eleven nominations, and has won countless critics awards. And now in his later years, he is still doing some of the finest work of his career. It is almost as though finally winning that first Oscar in 1993 freed him from the pressure of having to win, wanting to win, which he did to himself, and now he makes films for his audiences, entertaining and educating with each new picture.
The BFG is going to be huge; it is huge. Based on Roald Dalh’s beloved children’s book, the film has been in pre-production for years, almost made once with Robin Williams, which would have changed the very fabric of the movie. Now with Spielberg’s new favorite actor, recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance, and he shows us again the unbelievable. It is the directors purest fantasy film in years, since E.T. – The Extraterrestrial (1982), and in many ways is a great deal like that film.
In the world within this film giants exist, they wander the streets of London undetected, disguising and hiding themselves, snacking on humans from time to time, children being their favourite snack, stealing them from their beds when necessary. Many of them are loathe-some creatures, with names like Fleshlumpeater and Meatdripper, bullies who terrorize other giants or anyone in their path, but like best to terrorize children.
Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a child living in an orphans shelter is one night taken from her room by a giant hand, and whisked away to giant country where she fully expects to become a meal. When she asks the lumbering yet surprising agile giant why he found her he tells her with giant, wise eyes, “Because I heard your lonely heart”, and he means it. Unlike the other giants in his land he does not eat humans, choosing a vegetarian diet instead. The child learns he has a unique job, sending dreams into the minds of sleeping children, meaning the human race no harm at all. His heart is far too large for any world really, his all-knowing, sad eyes twinkling with mystery draw Sophie to him and they become soul mates as friends. Each knows they must stop the other giants, the bullies from eating people, and that is exactly what they set out to do. They are two lonely souls who found each other and bring out the very best in one another.
Spielberg focuses on character here, eases up on action which allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in the film and its beauty and magic. Like the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings films the atmosphere, the world of these giants is mesmerizing to behold and art direction becomes a huge part of the film experience. The lack of business actually allows us to see more than we would have, to be fulling hurtled into this world.
Mark Rylance, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Spielberg’s last film Bridges of Spies (2015) does a magnificent job creating BFG in a clever merging of acting and visual effects. We see it is Rylance, that is important, and as an actor he brings such life force to the giant, his eyes the window to his soul and what a beautiful soul it is. It is a breathtaking piece of acting, deserving of attention for an Oscar or at least a nomination. The evolving relationship between Rylance and young Ruby Burnhill is a wonder to see. Burnhill is never once cute nor coy, she gives a terrific performance as a precocious little girl who encounters something unbelievable and yet believes.
I loved watching Rylance. Loved it. There was a constant sense of life behind those eyes, which twinkle with purpose, with mystery and genuine goodness. To be truthful I cannot wait to see it again. His monologues are filled with truth, of fantasy and spectacular wonder, there is not a false note in his performance.
Spielberg has always created miracles on-screen. In The BFG he creates a landscape of astonishment and wonder, characters and a film that swell the heart and remind us there is good in the world (or that one) and sometimes when we let it in, magic happens.
Simply a miracle and easily one of the best films of the year.