Entertainment

‘Crucible’ Themes Still On Target

Poor Winona Ryder is beginning to seem a bit pathetic: In “The Age of Innocence” and now “The Crucible,” she keeps throwing herself at Daniel Day-Lewis and he keeps picking some other Oscar nominee.

Day-Lewis is a Salem, Mass., farmer with skin roasted to a manly mahogany color (he looks like a regular at some 17th-century Puritanning parlor). Day-Lewis and Ryder have had a fling, but Day-Lewis regretted it and returned to his frigid wife (Joan Allen, Oscar-nominated as the first lady in “Nixon”). To get her Puri-stud back, Ryder invents accusations of witchery and other teens join her, until half the women in Salem stand accused.

Based on Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible” endures because the theme of mass hysteria is both compelling and malleable. Miller wrote the play to protest McCarthyism, but today we’re more likely to think of those day-care/ Satanism cases with kids badgered into manufacturing stories about the “evil” they saw. “I had not expected so much of our evidence to come from children,” one judge says.

The irony of this situation is that the accused can save themselves only by “admitting” that they are witches. In other words, the only way to get justice is to lie. Black becomes white in Salem and nothing makes sense: Your hen won’t lay? Witches did it. The wind changed direction? It’s witchery. Vanna White says there’s no “b” in the puzzle? She’s a witch.

Ryder’s top billing is a distraction. Allen has the female lead here, and Ryder’s presence in a small role sends the story off-track for a time. But casting Ryder makes you think about her character’s motivations: She’s not a bad person, just misguided. Her bid for attention is a foolish, but partially successful, attempt to get noticed in a society that has no use for women (or, the movie suggests, people of color).

Day-Lewis is reliably good, but the revelation is Allen. A pious woman, her character knows she will pay a price for her refusal to lie. Her final scene, in which she and her husband haltingly find the strength of their love at the last possible second, is beautiful and restrained.

Paul Scofield isn’t restrained, but he’s equally good as a judge who sees the witch trials as a way to make a name for himself. Scofield uses his mellifluous voice and Mike Wallacemeets-Lauren Bacall face to show how evil hides behind the mask of good. You need only hear the way he hisses the word “swamp” (“sssswampah”) to know that this officer of the court couldn’t care less about justice.

The cast comes together under the direction of Nicholas Hytner. His fleet camera work and swift storytelling are a metaphor for the way the witch accusations go out of control, racing to a conclusion none of the characters could have wanted or foreseen.

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: “THE CRUCIBLE” Locations: Newport Cinemas Credits: Directed by Nicholas Hytner, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen, Winona Ryder Running time: 2:03 Rating: PG-13

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “The Crucible:” Al Alexander/Patriot Ledger News Service: Many movie critics have been stumbling all over themselves heralding “The Crucible,” but I’ll be darned if I know why. Maybe I’m missing something, but this film adaptation of Arthur Miller’s classic play just left me feeling bored and disappointed. Matt Wolf/Associated Press: Arthur Miller’s benchmark play, “The Crucible,” makes a stirring film courtesy of director Nicholas Hytner, who proves that his 1994 movie debut with “The Madness of King George” was no fluke. Jack Mathews/Newsday: For the first hour or so, “The Crucible” gets by on historical curiosity. It seems absolutely right that these immigrants in the New World would have their heads buried in Scripture. … But the more frenzied the town becomes, the more the film begins to play like “Village of the Damned.” There are so many scenes with Abigail and her frightened flock pointing and screaming at an imaginary devil that the real devil would collapse in laughter. Janet Maslin/New York Times: Handsome and impassioned, vigorously staged by the director of “The Madness of King George,” this “Crucible” is a reminder of the play’s wide reach, which goes well beyond witch trials in any century. Beth Pinsker/The Dallas Morning News: Plays often lose something in translation from stage to screen, but few lose as much as “The Crucible.” Carrie Rickey/Philadelphia Inquirer: So electric are the performances in “The Crucible,” so breathtaking is director Nicholas Hytner’s darting camera, that it was fully halfway into Arthur Miller’s screen adaptation of his legendary drama before I noticed something missing. Namely, a subtext. Bob Fenster/The Arizona Republic: “The Crucible” could have been filmed as a static stage play. But Hytner gives it force and tension by keeping scenes taut and accentuating the life of a rustic village. Those of us who remember the play and the times it captured will find the movie a reinvigoration of its allegorical themes. Younger people without experience of the political context should still be fascinated by “The Crucible’s” cautionary tale of the hysterical destruction caused by a witch hunt gone wild.

These sidebars appeared with the story: “THE CRUCIBLE” Locations: Newport Cinemas Credits: Directed by Nicholas Hytner, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Joan Allen, Winona Ryder Running time: 2:03 Rating: PG-13

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “The Crucible:” Al Alexander/Patriot Ledger News Service: Many movie critics have been stumbling all over themselves heralding “The Crucible,” but I’ll be darned if I know why. Maybe I’m missing something, but this film adaptation of Arthur Miller’s classic play just left me feeling bored and disappointed. Matt Wolf/Associated Press: Arthur Miller’s benchmark play, “The Crucible,” makes a stirring film courtesy of director Nicholas Hytner, who proves that his 1994 movie debut with “The Madness of King George” was no fluke. Jack Mathews/Newsday: For the first hour or so, “The Crucible” gets by on historical curiosity. It seems absolutely right that these immigrants in the New World would have their heads buried in Scripture. … But the more frenzied the town becomes, the more the film begins to play like “Village of the Damned.” There are so many scenes with Abigail and her frightened flock pointing and screaming at an imaginary devil that the real devil would collapse in laughter. Janet Maslin/New York Times: Handsome and impassioned, vigorously staged by the director of “The Madness of King George,” this “Crucible” is a reminder of the play’s wide reach, which goes well beyond witch trials in any century. Beth Pinsker/The Dallas Morning News: Plays often lose something in translation from stage to screen, but few lose as much as “The Crucible.” Carrie Rickey/Philadelphia Inquirer: So electric are the performances in “The Crucible,” so breathtaking is director Nicholas Hytner’s darting camera, that it was fully halfway into Arthur Miller’s screen adaptation of his legendary drama before I noticed something missing. Namely, a subtext. Bob Fenster/The Arizona Republic: “The Crucible” could have been filmed as a static stage play. But Hytner gives it force and tension by keeping scenes taut and accentuating the life of a rustic village. Those of us who remember the play and the times it captured will find the movie a reinvigoration of its allegorical themes. Younger people without experience of the political context should still be fascinated by “The Crucible’s” cautionary tale of the hysterical destruction caused by a witch hunt gone wild.



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