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||IMDB Rating: 7.4/10 from 4,206 votes
||Release: 8 May 1987 (USA) /
||Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
||Director: Stephen Frears,
||Stars: Alfred Molina, Angus MacKay, Dave Atkins, Eric Richard, Frances Barber, Gary Oldman, James Grant, Janet Dale, Julie Walters, Lindsay Duncan, Margaret Tyzack, Rosalind Knight, Vanessa Redgrave, Wallace Shawn, William Job
||Synopsis: This film is the story of the spectacular life and violent death of British playwright Joe Orton. In his teens, Orton is befriended by the older, more reserved Kenneth Halliwell, and while the two begin a relationship, it's fairly obvious that it's not all about sex. Orton loves the dangers of bath-houses and liaisons in public restrooms; Halliwell, not as charming or attractive as Orton, doesn't fare so well in those environs. While both long to become writers, it is Orton who achieves fame - his plays "Entertaining Mr. Sloane" and "Loot" become huge hits in London of the sixties, and he's even commissioned to write a screenplay for the Beatles. But Orton's success takes him farther from Halliwell, whose response ended both his life and the life of the up-and-coming playwright. Written by Gary Dickerson <[email protected]>
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I don't usually enjoy biopics, but PRICK UP YOUR EARS is a glorious
exception. Many biopics don't have strong narrative arcs (simply
because people's lives generally don't), but this one does -- primarily
because it focuses on the rapid deterioration of the relationship
between playwright Joe Orton and failed novelist Kenneth Halliwell.
With the obvious exception of the horrific conclusion, the issues faced
by these two London writers will probably ring painfully true for many
members of the audience. Who hasn't felt like Halliwell at some point
-- or even Orton, dealing with a Halliwell-esquire partner?
This is where PRICK UP YOUR EARS succeeds while so many other biopics
fail: while it does not shy away from the sensationalistic aspects of
Orton's life, it never neglects the complex relationship beating at the
center of the narrative. I can safely say it's one of the rare cases
where I found myself relating on a human level to the biographical
subjects, instead of dryly watching them from afar.
Director Stephen Frears deserves kudos for his warm, understated
approach. It's almost hard to praise his directing because it's so
unobtrusive; but this is exactly his strong point. He is confident in
the story's inherent power, so he wisely gets out of the way and lets
it unfold naturally.
And he is helped marvelously by the uniformly great performances; there
simply isn't a wrong note struck by the cast. Even supporting roles,
like those of Orton's sister and brother-in-law, feel like real human
beings. Of course, the real standouts are Oldman, Molina and Redgrave.
Though his physical appearance isn't dramatically altered, Gary Oldman
still seems unrecognizable compared to his previous work; this is how
strongly he becomes Orton. His carefree swagger is by turns charming
and infuriating. You understand why Halliwell is both entranced and
insanely frustrated with him. He also looks a little bit like Dana
Carvey - just by the by.
Molina is no less astonishing. Bald at 25, frustrated, neurotic,
sexually incapable... the character is a hulking mass of awkwardness,
but somehow he evokes tremendous sympathy. You alternately want to hug
this guy and shake him silly. (The scene in which Orton is informed of
his mother's death is heartbreaking - for both men's reactions.)
Meanwhile, Redgrave is a delight. Her line readings are exquisite and
she gives the movie a crisp cleverness without crossing the line into
For all the tragic and uncomfortable elements of Orton and Halliwell's
relationship, the movie still features some hilarious scenes. The
cheeky title, Orton and Halliwell's divergent accounts of their
lifestyle together, the conversation with Brian Epstein, and
Halliwell's "we were having a conversation" gave the movie a gleeful
edge of naughtiness -- one the viewer suspects was strongly inspired by
Orton's own approach to life and work.
In short, I highly recommend this movie. Though its description may
seem sensationalistic -- a gay man brutally murders his successful
young lover -- PRICK UP YOUR EARS triumphs as both a simple human drama
and as a biography in which its subjects are made more intimate rather
than more remote.
Tags for Prick Up Your Ears Full Movie
, Angus MacKay
, Dave Atkins
, Eric Richard
, Frances Barber
, Gary Oldman
, James Grant
, Janet Dale
, Julie Walters
, Lindsay Duncan
, Margaret Tyzack
, Rosalind Knight
, Vanessa Redgrave
, Wallace Shawn
, William Job
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