Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Awakenings (1990)

AwakeningsBased on the real life story of Dr. Oliver Sacks, 'Awakenings' ranks as one of the best movies I've seen. If features a terrific screenplay that was adapted from the book and a memorable directing job by Penny Marshall. But the most suprising thing to me was the choice of actors to play the two main roles in the movie. Robin Williams was pretty much known as the slightly insane comic genius from the 1980's, and Robert DeNiro was playing such hard-hitting, aggressive characters in films like 'Raging Bull', 'The Untouchables', 'Taxi Driver', and 'The Deer Hunter'. Both actors turn in career performances, and play parts that totally will smash any preconceived notions you had of them up to that point.

The film is based on Dr. Leo Sayer(Williams) and his work with people who have come down with a mysterious sleeping-sickness in 1918, which has left them in a catatonic state. Dr. Sayer is a shy person who is not comfortable conversing with others, but is also a very dedicated neurologist. He starts to work with these "sleeping" people and thinks that he senses something in them that is alive deep inside. He begins to work with a man called Leonard Lowe(DeNiro), and takes a special interest in him. He reads up on the drug L-Dopa, which had helped people in similiar states as his patients, and tries to convince the hospital and Leonard's mother to try the drug on her son. They allow the test to happen, and Leonard wakes up from his "sleep". The drug is then tried on his other patients with similar results. You would think that it was a happy story from thereafter, but life is not full of Hollywood endings, and the story does not take the easy way out. It won't leave you depressed or exhilarated but somewhere in between, like life is most of the time.

Definitely one of the best films to come out in the past 12 years, and should be in any serious movie buff's collection. There are no extra's on the DVD, but the quality of the picture is pretty good. But in the end, isn't it about the movie, not the extra's(by the way, I love the extra's just as much as everyone else). Marshall, Williams, and DeNiro have made a special film that they should be proud of and will be watched by generations to come.

I am an enormous fan of Robert DeNiro's. He is one of the greatest actors of all time, in my opinion. However, sometimes both that reputation and the showiness of a particular part overwhelms all the other performers in a particular film, robbing those performers of notoriety that is well deserved.

This is especially true in Awakenings. DeNiro plays Leonard Lowe, a man who awakens from a 30 year coma, experiences life in 1969 New York, then tragically slips back into that coma by the end of the film. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves to nominate performances like DeNiro's -namely those where the actor has to simulate mental retardation, physical disabilities, fatal diseases or other handicaps. Some of these nominated performances are truly deserving of recognition, such as Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot, Leonardo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Tom Hanks in Forest Gump. However, many of these performances are not, such as Jodie Foster in Nell (Janeane Garofalo did a devastating parody of her performance on Saturday Night Live) and Ali MacGraw in Love Story. DeNiro's performance in Awakenings is much more of the former than the latter -he is always good and his performance in this film is no exception. However, to me, the truly great performance in Awakenings is by Robin Williams.

Williams plays DeNiro's physician, Malcom Sayer, a dedicated caring doctor who nonetheless is a shy, introverted loner who admits to Leonard at one point that he is "not good with people." In real life, Williams is so extroverted and so manic that in many of his performances that personality leaks out and intrudes on the characters he plays on film. In Awakenings, however, he completely submerges that persona and is 100% believable as the almost hermit-like Sayer. The central theme of the film is that Leonard Lowe, who has lost so much because of his affliction, is nevertheless living his life with ten times the gusto that Malcom Sayer, who has no afflictions other than his shyness, is living his life. If Williams is not absolutely believable as Sayer, the film falls apart, no matter how believable DeNiro is at portraying his character's illness. Williams is a wonderful actor who uses his comic gifts and manic personality to great advantage in his best work -e.g. The World According to Garp, Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting and Insomnia. However, this is Williams' first peformance where he is forced to completely submerge his own character and he succeeds brilliantly.

However, when the Oscar nominations were announced for 1990, DeNiro was nominated and Williams was snubbed. Indeed, when the film was released, all the friends I spoke with marveled at DeNiro's performance but didn't say anything about Williams. It's too bad. To be sure, DeNiro is excellent in Awakenings, but Williams' performance is a revelation.

Buy Awakenings (1990) Now

I don't know how this wonderful movie ever got made. It's not a feel good movie. It's got Robert DeNiro but he's not playing a tough guy. It's got Robin Williams but he's not being funny. But I'm glad that whoever pushed for it did so. And I'm glad Hollywood relented. AWAKENINGS is a quietly powerful movie of enormous depth and passion. Anyone who has seen the movie has been affected by it.

Based on Oliver Sack's book, AWAKENINGS recounts the story of a miracle that occurred in a New York hospital during the mid-1960s. Bucking the system and believing in his theory, Williams' character brings back a dozen patients who appear catatonic--DeNiro being one of them. Through massive applications of the drug L-Dopa, the patients revive and take sheer joy out of just simple tasks. Although the sad ending has been given away by others, I feel the film remains a positive story. It is about human endurance and also about the joys we some times take for granted.

Read Best Reviews of Awakenings (1990) Here

After viewing this film over fifty times since its release I would say this film is my absolute favorite. It belongs at the top of my list. From the first moment of the movie, you understand that you are in for the emotional roller-coaster ride of your life! Robert de Niro and Robin williams, are so passionate and give their absolute greatest performances. By some standards this film would be considered slow if you solely like all the other films I have reviewed (Click my name). But to say that is a slander to the film, the writer Oliver Sacks (The book) , Penny Marshall the Director, and all others involved. It will give you a more wholesome outlook on life and appreciate what you have. Some things are down-right halarious, while other moments make you think (And believe me the moving Film-Score will make you think!) Don't get me wrong, some of you will not like this movie, because it takes a certain taste to like it...But for the chosen-few who will give this film a shot and go with it, you will be blessed beyond measure. "Its just the simple things...You have to be reminded...The meaning of Life...The Wonder of life...The Freedom of life...!"

Want Awakenings (1990) Discount?

I still remember this film, so many years later. AWAKENINGS made me realize that Robert De Niro had the talent and the ability to portray a deeply human and profound character, Leonard, a man who has lived in his own world for many years, in a very sensitive way. He wasn't just a hit man or a thug! This role solidifies his depth as a performer and was worthy of much praise. Dr. Malcom Sayer (Robin Williams) a shy man, decides to test the effects of the drug L-Dopa on catatonic patients in his hospital--Leonard being one of them. It is a miraculous feat that he seemingly brings those under his care "back from the dead." The transformation is astonishing. It's also amazing that this was based on a true story that occured in the life of Dr. Oliver Sachs. The film also stars Julie Kavner (best known as the voice of Marge Simpson on THE SIMPSONS), as Dr. Sayer's devoted nurse. The film has moments of tremendous joy and heartwrenching setbacks. It doesn't have the 'typical' Hollywood ending, but that doesn't take away from the feeling that awakens in you upon watching AWAKENINGS. Powerful and very memorable.

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