Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck's classic novel depicts the difficult lives of farm workers during the Great Depression of the 1930s, with men drifting from job to job in search of a security that seemed always just out of reach. For George (Gary Sinise) and Lennie (John Malkovich), their search is both more desperate and more hopeful. More desperate, because Lennie's childlike mind and behavior keep getting them into trouble, and more hopeful, because the two men do have one precious thing their fellow workers lack: a true friendship to count on.
The 1992 film adaptation of Steinbeck's novel does an excellent job of translating the book to the screen. Sinise, who directs as well as stars, accurately captures the mood of the original novel as well as faithfully representing the major events of the story. Of Mice and Men is a very well-paced film, and at an hour and fifty minutes, it fits in all the essential elements of the story without feeling the slightest bit rushed, and without any padding at all. In many ways, the entire story leads inevitably to the conclusion that we see, and Sinise does an excellent job both as actor and director in setting the story in motion and then, in the difficult final scene, pulling everything together.
One of the aspects of the film that I enjoyed most was its handling of the relationship between George and Lennie. Filmmaking, and our modern culture in general, tends to overlook "simple" friendship between men, but in Of Mice and Men we are shown a profound tie between the two men that can't be explained away by family ties (since they are not related) or sexual connection (since it is manifestly not that kind of relationship) or even duty (since George's only obligation to Lennie is what he chooses to have). The relationship is one of pure friendship, and it defines both their lives, giving them something meaningful to hold on to, in contrast to the other characters we see in the film, all of whom are defined by their painful loneliness. It's essential to the success of the film that this friendship be completely real and believable, and both Sinise and Malkovich ensure, through their excellent performances, that this is the case from the very first moment of the film to the last.
The most amazing part of Of Mice and Men is what I've left until the last: John Malkovich's performance as Lennie. Malkovich is simply incredible in the role, and while he would have been the last actor whom I would have envisioned in the part, after seeing the film, I can't imagine anyone else doing a better job. Malkovich captures the nuances of the character perfectly: desperately eager to please his only friend, dimly aware that he is not normal, Lennie wavers in a constant balance between exuberant enjoyment of the simple pleasures of life and terror at what he does not understand. Nor is Lennie a one-dimensional "innocent": as George proudly proclaims on several occasions, he is "as strong as a bull," but like a bull, Lennie is also capable of unwitting damage to those he loves.
Of Mice and Men is rather oddly presented: it's a flipper, with the movie on one side and the special features on the other. I'm puzzled as to why MGM would choose this inconvenient format, especially since it raises the potential for compression issues by restricting the film to on only one side of the dual-layer disc.
Of more concern to me was the fact that my player exhibited several instances of difficulty reading the disc, in one case forcing me to skip to the next chapter. Since the DVD was in pristine condition, it was evidently a manufacturing problem that I hope is restricted to my copy.
Of Mice and Men is presented in a visually appealing anamorphic widescreen transfer, preserving the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are nicely handled, with the golden and yellow tones of the fields forming a consistent backdrop for the characters at work. Skin tones and other colors are natural-looking both outdoors and in, and contrast holds up well in a variety of light levels. Some edge enhancement is present in the film, though it's more noticeable in some scenes than in others. A small amount of noise is present in the print, along with some minor print flaws in the form of small speckles. All in all, it's an attractive presentation.
Of Mice and Men is a mainly dialogue-focused film, except for a few scenes, and as such it doesn't really need a more surround-intensive track, so the Dolby 2.0 track does nicely. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout the film, and ambient sounds are cleanly presented as well. The track is well balanced, with dialogue, music, and other effects all at correct volume levels.
A dubbed French Dolby 2.0 track is provided as well, along with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The special edition of Of Mice and Men offers a solid selection of bonus materials for the film. On the first side of the disc, along with the film itself, we get a full audio commentary track from director Gary Sinise, along with a trailer for the film.
On the second side of the disc are an assortment of other special features, most notably eleven deleted scenes, which have optional commentary from Sinise. The scenes can be viewed individually or by using the "play all" feature. "In Conversation: Gary Sinise and Horton Foote" is a medium-length featurette in which Sinise and scriptwriter Foote discuss their inspiration for and work on the film. A second medium-length featurette, "The Making of Of Mice and Men," offers a reasonably interesting look behind the scenes. It does have a fair number of clips from the film, as well as the actors describing their characters, but it also includes some interesting commentary from Sinise and others, including John Steinbeck's widow. The special features are rounded out with some miscellaneous material: screen tests for Sherilyn Fenn, and makeup tests for the main characters. Some introductory comments are provided by Sinise, but for the most part the screen and makeup tests run without commentary, and are not terribly interesting. Lastly, a short listing of other MGM titles is provided.
Gary Sinise's 1992 film of John Steinbeck's classic novel is an example of top-notch adaptation: anyone who enjoyed the novel will appreciate this very well-done rendition for the screen, and those viewers who haven't read the original may very well want to pick it up after seeing the film. John Malkovich and Gary Sinise turn in outstanding performances in this story of friendship and the search for happiness; even apart from the film's other virtues, it's worth seeking out just for Malkovich's incredible performance in a role very different from his usual type. With a solid DVD presentation to boot, Of Mice and Men is highly recommended.