Stanley Kubrick has returned after his 1971’s controversial success A Clockwork Orange with his tonally different 1975 feature, Barry Lyndon. His last feature was a movie that was ultra violent and about a totalitarianism society. This movie is different by a wide margin. It has more of a historical value because it takes place in England during the Seven Years’ War and we get a sense of English society at the time. It is also based off the works of famed nineteenth century writer William Makepeace Thackeray. This film also has a lovely atmospheric air to it. Kubrick, as usual, masterfully write this feature. You could tell that this is his pet project. However, the movie does clock in at over three hours and with the lack of action, there can be a dull moment or two to be had. After all, I feel the aristocratic world can get somewhat boring at times. That being said, we have Kubrick on the top of his game as he created a valued historical narrative that remains mostly interesting and our eyes are able to feast on perfect costuming and successful camera experimenting. Essentially, Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott shot the film without the use of electrical light, and that is why the look of the film seemed a bit odd compared to other films.
Narratively, I felt the first hour of the film was the strongest. I found the last two hours enjoyable, but it would be very hard to top the perfect narrative of the first hour. During theS 1700’s in Ireland, Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) is a man who is in love with his cousin, Nora. After Nora gets engaged to the British Captain John Quinn, Barry challenges him to a duel. He wins the duel and he escapes to Dublin, but he gets robbed. Left with no choice, Barry joins the British Army to fight in the Seven Years’ War. He decides to desert the army, and he eventually gets forced to join the Prussian Army where he becomes the protégé of Chevalier de Balibari (Patrick Magee). He soon marries the Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) , but downfall is the near future as Barry’s obsession with nobility will become the downfall of his family and fortune.
As Stanley Kubrick is wont to do, he developed a cast that not many people may be familiar with. But because Kubrick always know what he is doing, the cast somehow works out well. The biggest name here is Ryan O’Neal and he is not even that much of a household name. He opened eyes with his role in The Love Story, so that is why people may recognize him. I thought he did a really good job. I was invested in his character throughout the entire film. His character could have worked as a completely serious character (and there are some very serious dramatic moments), but I love how he interjected some humor into his role. I also enjoyed Patrick Magee’s performance. Magee is best known for his work in A Clockwork Orange as the writer who gets robbed, and I thought his performance here was a really enjoyable one.
I love Kubrick’s taste of music in his films. Of course everyone knows about the famous music he used in 2001: A Space Odyssey and to an extent in A Clockwork Orange. So we know he has a passion for classical music based on his previous work. So it should come to no surprise he uses composers like Bach and Mozart to enhance his movie. A very good score which makes this movie even the more enjoyable.
Overall, Barry Lyndon is another fine piece of filmmaking from the legendary director Stanley Kubrick. It’s a bit strange because upon release in 1975, the film actually didn’t do too well critically and financially. People called it a disappointment because it was a completely different movie than expected and wondered why he would make a period piece that has plenty of English tax lingo and people cheating on each other. The movie may not have been a financial success, but the critical steam has built up over time and nowadays, people rank the movie as one of Kubrick’s best. It is not the perfect masterpiece as his previous films, but its still an enjoyable costume drama that tends to be a little stuffy and overlong. However, it has an excellent first half of the film plus the movie makes good use of music, costumes, set design, and everything regarding the beautiful visuals.
My Grade: A-