Sometimes A Great Notion [Blu-Ray]
Published Dec 12, 2012
Paul Newman made an ambitious decision to make his directorial debut with this 1970 adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel. In its translation to the screen, the story may have lost some of the scope of the sprawling tome, but it retains the hardscrabble spirit of a family that lives by the motto "never give an inch." The surly Stampers live on the bank of a river in a fictional Oregon locale, a tight-knit clan of loggers working in spite of an ongoing union strike, earning the ire of all their fellow loggers in the process. The patriarch is Henry (Henry Fonda), a bear of a man presiding over the household, despite being laid up after a work injury. Hank (Newman) is the son that followed in his father's footsteps, marrying Viv (Lee Remick) and carrying on a routine of working hard, before coming home to a few beers and some crude laughs every evening. Cousin Joe Ben (Richard Jaeckel) is a jovial and religious family man, wearing a perpetual infectious smile. Into the fold enters black sheep Leeland (Michael Sarrazin), Henry's son by a different mother, returning home to settle some scores, when not learning the family trade. The film does well to not fuss over formally introducing its characters, instead immersing the viewer in the busy household, slowly releasing bits of information to be parsed over. Newman's Hank is all ragged testosterone and macho bravado, masking a few secrets and unresolved issues. In one of the film's best sequences, he leads the charge at an annual picnic, where a game of "touch" football on the beach against some fellow loggers turns into a brutal free-for-all, culminating with the Stampers fighting each other. Remick's Viv is one of the few glaring missteps, as the film struggles to convey her conflicted place within the group, which is ultimately hampered by underdeveloped relationships with both Hank and Leeland. There's still much to admire, including Fonda's larger-than-life portrayal of an overbearing personality and a funny sequence in which some union workers' plan to sabotage the family ends with them being rescued by the Stampers. Without revealing too much, there is a harrowing scene near the end that is painful to watch in how it patiently observes a terrible predicament unfolding. Sadly, there are no extras to enlighten the viewing experience.