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i'll be the first to admit it .
when you mention the book great expectations , i immediately begin experiencing flashbacks to junior high english class , where i was confronted with a torturously boring book filled with people with such nonsensical names as pip and magwitch .
yes , it's a classic of literature , but it was a rather dry one , shoved down my young throat like a spoonful of bitter medicine .
certainly , the experience wasn't truly that bad , but , to quote ethan hawke in the latest movie adaptation of said book , " i'm not going to tell the story the way it happened . . . i'll
gonna tell it the way i remember it . "
anyway , to return from nostalgia lane , and get back to the present , hollywood , in it's trendy attempt to modernize the classics , now presents an updated film version of great expectations .
instead of pip , this time the central character is named finn ( played as a boy by jeremy kissner , and by ethan hawke as an adult ) .
finn is an orphan being raised by his unfaithful sister maggie , or should that be mrs . joe , ( kim dickens ) , and her boorish fisherman husband , joe ( chris cooper ) .
the setting is the florida coast during the mid-70s .
finn is a blooming artist , and spends his time running around the beach drawing fish ( one of his two favorite subjects ) .
during one of these escapades , he literally stumbles upon an escaped criminal ( robert deniro ) .
borrowing a page from the superhuman max cady , deniro's criminal has a seemingly limitless lung capacity , and favors hiding on the ocean floor .
ok . . . maybe
that's an exaggeration , but he certainly beats any of houdini's records in the opening scenes of the film .
and that's nothing next to the fuel efficiency of finn's motorboat , but i digress .
anyway , finn does the convict a good deed , just to show that he's a really swell guy .
and then the plot moves on .
enter miss havisham . . . or
ms . dinsmoor here ( anne bancroft ) .
abandoned at the altar some 26 years ago , ms . dinsmoor is the epitome of the crazy rich old maid .
with bizarre clothing , eccentric mannerisms and a few pounds of makeup , anne bancroft seriously overacts in this role .
although she ends up nowhere near a believable character , she does add some humor to the film .
joe is hired to help with the gardening at her unkempt manner , but the insane ms . dinsmoor soon hires finn to be a plaything for her niece , estella ( raquel beaudene as a young girl , gwyneth paltrow as an adult ) .
for no apparent reason , other than to provide the main plot of the film , finn is instantly stricken for the estella .
perhaps it's her snooty attitude or her utter disdain for his person , or maybe finn has simply never met a girl before .
in any case , neither as children nor adults , chemistry simply doesn't exist between the two , and yet finn spends the remainder of the film pining for her .
even when , as an adult , finn arrives in new york at the behest of a mysterious benefactor , reacquaints himself with estella , and draws her portrait in the nude , there's nothing .
in fact , there is more sexual tension between helen hunt and greg kinnear's gay artist during a similar scene in as good as it gets .
at this point , the audience has grown as cold and detached as estella's character , and couldn't care less about the two characters .
the bulk of the blame here falls upon gwyneth paltrow .
she fails to imbue estella , a remote character in the book , with even the vaguest traces of humanity .
there's obviously something wrong when , watching the film , you're more interested with how big her nose looks in silhouette than you are about her character .
without a strong estella , finn's obsession seems baseless .
you wish he would just stop whining , let estella marry his rival , walter plane ( an oddly subdued hank azaria ) , and just get on with his life .
in fact , the two relationships that work in the film are purely tangential to the main plot .
finn's relationship with his brother-in-law , joe , is interesting , if a bit stereotypical .
what's more fascinating are his interactions with deniro .
although it's only a bit part , it goes to show how much vitality a strong actor can create .
it is apparent that director alfonso cuarsn put a lot of work in creating the imagery of the film .
some of the shots work , but others are too obviously staged ( for example , both of the water fountain scenes ) to have any impact .
finn's art ( actually the creations of italian painter , francesco clemente ) is used throughout the film , but it mostly fails to have the intended effect .
we never see why finn would generate this style of art , which is simultaneously crude and insightful .
as a result , it ends up as distant as the rest of the film .
modernizing the classics is currently in vogue ( just see william shakespeare's romeo+juliet ) .
simply update the action to a modern setting , and apply plenty of modern rock .
but such adornments do little to perk up great expectations .
as much as i dreaded the novel when i first read it , you'd probably be better off suffering though a reading than watching this romanceless film .