After a long wait I finally got to watch Barry Lyndon, Kubrick's stately Thackeray adaptation that followed the controversial A Clockwork Orange. Another 3 hour film (what have I done to deserve this?) but strangely enough, despite its slow pace, a film I didn't feel overstayed it's welcome. With a few exceptions the film moved along at a good pace, which can, I assume having never read it, be attributed to Thackeray's source novel.
Kubrick is often criticised for his impersonal, distanced and cold treatment of his protagonists, never penetrating beneath the veneer or exploring the 'why' of their actions. Strangely, the Bildungsroman form of the film suits Kubrick's style down to a tee, with an entire 20-30+ year period flashing by in 3 hours. You never have the chance to emote with Barry or find out why he is so fly-by-night, but I never got bothered by this, instead getting whisked along by the picaresque adventures of Barry.
Ryan O'Neal is generally held to be miscast as Barry, a barrel chested all-American playing an Irish gentleman made good, but I couldn’t see the problem with his performance. He manages the frustrated, proud young man and the distanced, self-satisfied lord of the manor very well, all using the same technique – by saying and doing very little. Whether this is a masterclass in restrained acting managing to emote inner repression, or just a 'model' actor not doing a very good job at expressing himself I can't say. I can imagine Kubrick was very pleased with the performance.
The shots are beautifully composed, painterly even, with a definite feel of Constable and Gainsborough landscapes to the outdoor scenes – lots of running water, trees overhanging stone walls, horse and carts. Kubrick does a great trick of zooming slowly out from a small detail to reveal a perfectly framed countryside scene, the closest he gets to a swooping period drama camera. The interior shots are remarkable for their lighting, which is all done by candle light (Kubrick reputedly developed/pioneered a special lens for his purpose)..
Where the film does fall down is in some very tedious, overly long scenes with little tension, especially the final duel scene which made me yearn for a Peckinpah style bloodbath to get over the monotonous build up.The film is also fairly predictable, not helped by the narrator who leaves you in no doubt that you are watching a filmed book, as opposed to an adaptation.