Though Giant is nearly three and a half hours long, I’m going to try to keep my review short. The main reason for this is that the movie really didn’t do much for me. I wouldn’t call it a complete failure, but I definitely wouldn’t consider it especially good either. It is most notable for containing James Dean’s last performance, and I’m really not sure for what else.
The film follows the lives of a group of Texans. Cattle rancher Jordan “Bick” Benedict (Rock Hudson) travels to Maryland to purchase a horse, and in addition, brings back a wife. Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) almost immediately takes issue with the most of their Texas customs, and locks horns with Bick’s sister, Luz (Mercesdes McCambridge). After Luz dies in an unfortunate accident, she leaves a piece of land to one of the workers on the property, Jett Rink (James Dean), who refuses to take the cash Bick offers him in the hope that his land can all stay in the family. When Jett discovers oil on his land and strikes it rich, he sets out to rub it in the faces of all the other rich Texans. Meanwhile, the Benedict’s deal with the challenges of race relations and untraditional children.
The most annoying thing about this film is it lack of production value. This movie last for almost three and a half hours, gives us some big shots of wide open spaces, and is about really, really rich people over the course of their adults lives. Yet everything looks drab and dusty. The inside of the Benedict house is basically all one color and there’s barely any furniture. The setting doesn’t match the characters or the story; we should be seeing unbearable amounts of wealth but instead we’re seeing about half of that, maybe not even. The film is not really that nice to look at, and it hurts the overall feel of the film considerably.
The second most annoying thing about this film is semi-related, but it doesn’t have a good sense of time. It’s hard to tell what time period we start out in, though it’s clear once they hit WWII in the later part of the film. The actors do a good job of acting younger than they are in the beginning of the film, but later when they are supposed to be older, you can barely tell the difference in their performances. The make-up department gives them basically no help, just a little bit of gray hair but their skin all looks the same throughout. These would be nitpicks in smaller scale film, but this movie has the audacity to go on for three an a half hours, and really should be able to deliver on this stuff. It’s an epic, half of the reason we want to see it is because it’s big and impressive. Unfortunately, Giant just turns out to be long.
Other than the complete lack of aging, I thought the performances were pretty decent. The characters weren’t that incredibly fascinating, which never really helps. Still, the cast worked well together. The film seems to be mostly known for James Dean’s performance, and I thought he did as well as anyone else in the film, but didn’t particularly stand out. He’s been known to mumble, but the funny thing was, everyone in this movie mumbled! I missed a lot of lines because of this, it was quite aggravating. He has a lot of character ticks, he makes Jett slouch and mumble, and just generally ornery and strange, but still not very compelling.
Almost everything in this film is run of the mill and standard. If we had gotten some more spectacle to go along with that, it may have worked better. Unfortunately, all we do end up getting is boring characters moving around predictably in a boring environment. The film is watchable, and it has some humor in it, but the moral quandaries are things we’ve all seen before, and they are not presented any differently than you normally see them. The film is not a total waste of time, but at three and a half hours, it’s pretty close.
“Bick, you shoulda shot that fella a long time ago. Now he’s too rich to kill.”
Long story short: 2/4 stars