One of the finest opening paragraphs in the history of movie reviewing came from N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott in his 5.25.01 review of Michael Bay‘s Pearl Harbor: “The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II has inspired a splendid movie, full of vivid performances and unforgettable scenes, a movie that uses the coming of war as a backdrop for individual stories of love, ambition, heroism and betrayal. The name of that movie is From Here to Eternity.”
Two days ago (12.13) Variety‘s Owen Glieberman used a similar opening-graph strategy in his review of David Frankel‘s Collateral Beauty: “It asks a lot of an audience to sit through a drama about a parent grieving over the loss of a child. The subject is rough [with] a vast potential for programmed pathos and fake sentiment. That’s part of the miracle of Manchester by the Sea. It leads us through one man’s life of locked-in sorrow with a sculptured emotional elegance that is never false; at the same time, the cathartic honesty of its journey allows the audience to touch a nerve of desolation and still breathe free.
“So it’s telling, in a way, that in an awards season that’s been tilting away from major-studio releases and toward independent works like Manchester, along comes “Collateral Beauty, the big soppy whimsical lump-in-the-throat commercial version of a drama of parental grief. It feels like a Hollywood awards movie from 30 years ago, laced with the kind of four-hankie strategies — hugs, buckets of tears, New Age greeting-card sentiments — that Manchester transcended.”