Little Big Man [Blu-Ray] Arthur Penn

Little Big Man [Blu-Ray] Arthur Penn
1970's Little Big Man came only a couple of years after Arthur Penn's wild shake-up of the post-classical American film industry (Bonnie and Clyde), so expectations were high. The film confidently carries on with the themes frequently present in Penn's work: the brutal violence underlying the organization of all human societies; the unique wanderings of a strange protagonist set against the mass of social norms; and a kind of dark humour that mixes unexpectedly well with epic historical drama. Dustin Hoffman stars as Jack Crabb, a 121-year-old man retelling the adventurous tales of his youth and adulthood to a cynically intellectual researcher. In the mid-19th century, Crabb vacillated between living in the white, Christian settler communities of the American West and the nomadic American Indian tribe of the "Human Beings," led by paternalistic mentor Old Lodge (Chief Dan George). Crabb's life story weaves through multiple phases (gunslinger, confidence man, drunkard, isolated woodsman, agrarian husband, adopted Cheyenne Indian, assassin), until he finally finds himself playing an integral role in General Custer's (played by a perfectly slimy Richard Mulligan) battle at Little Big Horn River against the Sioux and Cheyenne people. The film's release on Blu-Ray is light on special features – only the original trailer is included – but it's revealing of what the central appeal and success of this film were and remain to this day: Hoffman. The trailer's baritone-voiced narrator (remember when trailers had narrators?) booms, "Hoffman plays Crabb in reel after reel after reel," clips of which are introduced with the repeated announcement: "Dustin Hoffman" this! "Dustin Hoffman" that! And the credit is deserved. Hoffman is spectacular, multi-faceted, hilarious and sympathetic, generally holding attention like few actors are capable of. Staring curiously into the now-shockingly young face of Hoffman, his subtle expressiveness renews appreciation for one of the few actors whose fame can safely be attributed primarily to his massive talent. The film is nothing short of epic, although it doesn't boast the kind of sweeping, heavy-handed gravitas so many of its genre do. Harry Stradling Jr.'s cinematography of the American landscape casts a muted type of glory that translates well to the small screen, acting as the perfect background to some startlingly graphic violence, as heads are smashed, throats are slit and bullets and arrows pierce limp bodies, all with Hoffman's Crabb in the middle. Little Big Man never makes clear how much of Crabb's tales are exaggerated, but some stretching of the truth is assumed. In any case, it doesn't matter – the rich, sad, darkly funny and always-violent adventures that settled the American West all play across Hoffman's one-of-a-kind visage. (Paramount)