Movie Review #811: An emotionally resonant script backed by strong performances makes ‘A Place in the Sun’ a great character study on human nature.
By Red Stewart
|Rated NR (contains mild violence)|
I admit I’m not a religious man, though I certainly wouldn’t call myself an atheist by any means. However, the idea of sinning has always intrigued me as it poses an honest, enticing question; if someone legitimately thinks about harming another being, are they technically guilty of a crime?
“A Place in the Sun” explores that philosophical idea in detail, focusing on the life of a poor man named George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), who goes to work in his rich uncle’s factory where he meets and charms an assemblywoman named Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). Not wanting the family name to be tarnished, George’s uncle soon brings him into the upper class circle, where he becomes enamored by a beautiful socialite called Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). What follows is a complicated love triangle that ends in tragedy.
In many fictional works, Catholicism seems to be the de facto religion for telling these stories of remorse and sin, as seen in “Daredevil” and “Se7en”, and “A Place in the Sun” follows suit accordingly. Yet despite this, the themes are never preached to us, the film instead opting to plant the seeds of innocence in its characters and see what grows from there. When we’re introduced to our three leads, they seem to be genuinely good people who you would want to have a beer with (or in the case of Ms. Vickers, a glass of Brandy). As the story progresses, though, simple situations change them significantly from where they once stood, revealing darker traits that are scarily natural.
Even though they’re notably older than the characters they play, the cast of Clift, Winters, and Taylor all do a good job bringing out the great writing. Despite this, I do have to dock off half-a-star for most of Vickers’s dialogue as, even though Taylor delivered/acted out the lines perfectly, they felt a bit too airy in the context of the movie.
Films like this occupy a genre I like to call the brutal drama (which includes “Blue Valentine”, “Revolutionary Road”, and “Cool Hand Luke”) where the realism factor causes a reverse-uncanny valley feel in which we are attracted to the material because it is like our lives. The whole thing strangely reminds me of a common inquiry posed in psychology about whether humans are born evil or raised that way. After seeing “A Place in the Sun”, I believe you could find enough support for either argument. ✴